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Victor Keith Ray (1919–2009)

Victor Keith Ray was a prominent writer and journalist who worked in Arkansas for much of his career. Later in his career, he moved to public relations and advocacy work on behalf of the nation’s farmers.

Victor Keith Ray was born on February 10, 1919, in Bernie, Missouri, to Victor Hugo Ray and Myrtle Fonville Ray. He grew up in Missouri and graduated from Southeast Missouri State Teachers College (now Southeast Missouri State University). He married Pearl Downs; the couple had a daughter. He served in the U.S. Army Air Force during World War II.

Ray’s wide-ranging writing career began after the war in California, where he wrote a number of mystery stories that appeared in pulp detective magazines such as Black Mask, Street & Smith Detective, and Dime Detective.

Moving to Arkansas, he established a career as an editor of daily and weekly newspapers. He started as the editor of the weekly Wynne Progress, then the Pine Bluff Commercial. He then served as farm editor and feature writer for the Arkansas Gazette. Ray next served as editor and publisher of the Arkansas Union Labor Bulletin, the official publication of the Arkansas AFL-CIO. In addition to his work with the paper, he also ran the Times Union Printing Company. He was a founding member and, at one time, the executive director of the Central Arkansas Economic Opportunity Agency, a program established as part of the War on Poverty by the administration of President Lyndon B. Johnson.

In the mid-1960s, Ray went to Washington DC to serve as the director of public affairs for the National Farmers Union. In addition to his work with the organization, in 1968 he published a book, The Corporate Invasion of American Agriculture, which is credited with helping secure passage of numerous state laws that limited the role of non-farm corporations in state agriculture. Leaving Washington, Ray headed back into the field, serving as vice president for field services of the National Farmers Union in Denver, Colorado. Ray cofounded the Minnesota-based Land Stewardship Project. Initially begun as the American Farm Project, it was the largest rural project ever sponsored by the National Endowment for the Humanities. It sought to develop leaders who could draw upon the humanities to address the problems of rural America.

After retiring in 1981, Ray returned to Arkansas and became a full-time volunteer for the Arkansas Humanities Council; he was the organization’s 1985 volunteer of the year. In 1992, he was the recipient of the National Farmers Union Award for Distinguished Service to American Agriculture. After retirement, he also founded Arkansas Grantseekers Horizon, a publication designed to aid nonprofit organizations in finding potential funding sources.

Ray died on July 18, 2009.

For additional information:
Arkansas Short Story Fiction Collection. Butler Center for Arkansas Studies. Central Arkansas Library System, Little Rock, Arkansas. Finding aid online at http://arstudies.contentdm.oclc.org/cdm/compoundobject/collection/findingaids/id/7412/rec/4 (accessed September 15, 2017).

“Obituary of Victor Keith Ray.” Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, July 22, 2009, p. 7B.

Ray, Victor K. The Corporate Invasion of American Agriculture. Washington DC: National Farmers Union, 1968.

“Victor Keith Ray.” Ruebel Funeral Home. http://www.ruebelfuneralhome.com/obituaryindividual.php?id=659 (accessed September 15, 2017).

William H. Pruden III
Ravenscroft School

Last Updated 9/15/2017

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