Bill’s dad, Ray, passed away this week after 92 years of life. He was a man with a generous heart and a twinkle in his eye. The Gunnin charm was born with him and passed down to the generations after; a wicked sense of humor, a quick wit, and always the twinkle letting you know there was a joke in there somewhere.
His intellect was sharp. He had a brilliant mind for seeing future growth, which served him well in both politics and real estate development. His hobbies were hiking and helping people. He had a soft heart which he liked to keep anonymous. Sometimes when he talked, his eyes would well up with tears and it was a clue that whatever the topic he was talking about was near to his heart. He would never say anything about the tears because talking about feelings wasn’t done in his generation, but he felt it.
I remember one time, after Bill’s accident while he was still in ICU, I went by the house for something or another. I knocked but there was no answer which was odd, since I had called ahead. I looked in the window beside the door, and Ray was sitting in the den weeping. As I slipped away back to my car, I felt it to my toes and it left a mark on my heart to see a father weeping for his son. I still tear up when I think about it, because it was raw emotion and it was how I was feeling as well. He never showed it externally, because it was not his way, but I caught a glimpse of how much he cared that day. I cannot tell you how he kept us afloat for years after, while we tried desperately to recover our broken dreams.
He used that soft spot to give generously to others. In fact, one of his driving forces was to help. He did it in his political career. He did it in his relationships. He helped in his own way…and usually did so without many words. Donations made. Tuition paid. Gifts given. Contributions disbursed. All very quietly. He gave to his causes and to people he loved. Not just money, he also gave time. My kids will tell you how he shared his interests with them when they were little.
Every summer, he hosted Skitts Mountain University. He paid them a dollar to come to his house and learn math tricks. He would sit them down and train them on how to use numbers…they certainly didn’t get any math skills from me! Haha. He would go on walks up the mountain and teach about nature as he walked with them and the dogs. He was always trying to impart knowledge.
He took them to flea markets, gave them a dollar each and told them not to spend it all in one place AND to bring him back the change. They learned how to find the cheapest thing there. When we lived in the cabin and there were wasps coming in and dying in their bedrooms, he put a price of 25 cents per wasp on them. He was trying to turn them from enemies to friends. When they took him at his word, collected and delivered the bodies to him, he had to go down to a nickel per corpse because there were so many! Life lessons. Always teaching life lessons.
He lived through the depression and told stories of how the men in his family would go out to the train tracks and come back with bags full of coal. With tears in his eyes, he said he never knew where the coal came from, but his thought was that it was taken to provide for the family. It made a deep impression on him and fueled much of his giving to those down on their luck, I think.
He could take 2 pennies and rub them together to make a quarter. He was thrifty and it served him well in his business life. He saved everything in case he ever needed it. He built a barn to hold the things he might need in the future. If the house was Louise’s domain, the barn was his. She rarely went down there and let him have that space for all his stuff, which he relished. He kept everything!
One time when Bill needed a new nose pad on his glasses, Ray went down to the barn and found one for him so Bill wouldn’t have to buy a new one. He built a pool house without having to do anything but go to his barn for materials. He fixed things himself rather than hiring someone, because he always had something out in the barn that would do the trick. He let nieces and nephews dig around down there and pull out stuff to build treehouses and any other structure you could think of.
He kept his antique cars down there, too. When anyone came over, he walked them down to the barn to see the cars. Then he took anyone who wanted, on a ride in his model A, or for a jeep ride up the mountain. It was his joy to go for rides through his latest development and then stop by a flea market or two while he was out, or to bump up the road to the top of the mountain for a view.
He shared his property often. Gunnin reunions where held there regularly. The sunrise Easter service on the top of the mountain was a staple for years. There are so many of us who lived in the log cabin temporarily, between jobs, or while houses were being built etc… that we could have our own log cabin club. He was happiest when he was helping people and doing things for them. I cannot tell you the stories we have heard this week from some who have called to express their condolences. He will be missed. There will never be another Ray Gunnin, he was one of a kind.
Due to the pandemic, services will be delayed to a later date. Thank you for sharing your stories with us.