Ray was first and foremost a bladesmith. I’m sorry I don’t have pictures of his museum quality knives to show you. Most of them are in private collections. Ray had been interested in metal working all his life, taking his first jewelry class in high school. He wanted to be a jeweler, but his father was mortified that any son of his should sit at a bench and work with his hands. Never mind that Ray had talent, intelligence and a desire to find his own voice-his career plans didn’t fit in with his father’s myth.
His parents split up early and his mother left. His father remarried and had a new family. Ray didn’t fit in. He left as soon as he was old enough, but he had a way about him that made people invite him into their families almost everywhere he went. Ray settled down with my sister-in-law Shari, pictured on the left around 1993. Phil and Sandeye Jurus, who own Baltimore’s Jurus Gallery which carries some of Ray’s work, became like second parents to him. Ray always managed to appear right when Sandeye was cooking something. My own mother adored him and wanted to have her picture taken on his motorcycle.
About three years ago, Ray heard that his father had died. I think this liberated him somehow, because he started making jewelry again-this time in earnest. He also started a job as a machinist working with high tech metals for the defense industry. The proprietor and his boss was Sam who was also like a second father to him.
Here is some jewelry Ray made for Shari.
In August 2007, an SUV turned in front of him as he rode his motorcycle to work. Even though he was rendered a paraplegic, he and Shari were determined to get on with their lives when he got out of the hospital. Shari moved their belongings to a wheelchair friendly apartment. Friends offered to build him a wheelchair accessable jeweler’s bench. His friend Kelly planned to teach him how to use precious metal clay. But since the accident, he suffered from constant bed sores and MRSA infections. He never did leave the hospital. His body finally gave out and he died in April, 2008.
Those who truly knew Ray knew he was a complicated man who struggled with serious demons all his life. But they loved him anyway. I suppose this is what you call unconditional love.
I have some of Ray’s jewelry tools now and I will think of him whenever I use them. But most importantly, I am again reminded that for anyone who is hurting because he was denied unconditional love when he needed it most, his pain will be healed if he can find the courage to give love unconditionally.