Ray White passed away on June 16, after living in Hixson, TN for the past few years, and unfortunately his death has gotten too little notice, in my opinion. He had just turned 80 last month.
He first came to my attention when he was a young man, but he was already quite an accomplished person in Chattanooga. As a twenty-year-old University of Chattanooga student, he was handling news assignments for WDEF radio, working alongside the already-legendary Luther Masingill. He was also quite active in the Lambda Chi Alpha fraternity, and remained so throughout his life.
After a stint in the US Army Security Agency, he returned to Chattanooga and became a home builder, while also active in the Jaycees and Young Republicans. I guess the broadcasting bug hadn’t let go (which happens to the best of us), and in 1965, he turned up at Channel 3 doing the weather on Sunday nights with news anchor Roy Morris and sportscaster Gus Chamberlain. He was also working for WAPO radio.
The following year, Channel 12 hired him to anchor the 11 p.m. weeknight news, replacing Harve Bradley. He stayed there until 1968, when he ran for the Tennessee State House of Representatives, serving the Hixson area. He served a two-year term in Nashville, then sat out for a couple of years before running, and winning again for the same House seat in 1972. He served with another young legislator from Hamilton County, Claude Ramsey, who died two days after Ray at the age of 75.
After finishing that second term, he moved on from broadcasting and politics for a few years until fate intervened to bring him back to Chattanooga television. Channel 12 anchorman Mort Lloyd, who had taken a leave to run for Congress, died in a plane crash in 1974. The station struggled to replace Lloyd, who was always a ratings leader. In October of 1975, Channel 12 convinced White to come back as news director and 6 p.m. news anchor. (In an odd twist of fate, his co-anchor Mike King then became an assistant to newly-elected Congresswoman Marilyn Lloyd, Mort’s widow, who had gone on to win that House seat).
Ray and his Channel 12 teammates fought off a strong challenge from the new Channel 9 team of Bob Johnson, Don Welch, and Darrell Patterson, and continued to win the ratings battle for a few more years. Among his notable achievements was hiring a 19-year-old Tennessee Temple University student named Debbie Baer to do the weather after John Gray retired. Baer went on to become hugely popular in Chattanooga, and later Nashville.
In 1979, Ray left Channel 12 for a second time, and worked in television news in New Mexico and Colorado, among other places for several years. During the years he was away from Channel 12, the station went through several news directors and anchor teams. Channels 3 and 9 had decided to invest heavily in news, while Channel 12’s ownership was not as aggressive. As a result, both 3 and 9 made massive gains, and 12 got left behind.
In 1985, Ray was lured back to Channel 12 for a third stint, this time as news director. A year later, management convinced him that his name and familiarity would be of benefit at the evening news desk again, so Ray was back on TV.
I got to know him during the next couple of years, while he was serving as both news director and evening news anchor. He had been given an impossible task, and he knew it. But his love for Chattanooga, Channel 12, and his employees was always evident. He was a bright presence in the newsroom, and the news team knew he was on their side.
I’ll always remember his perseverance despite the penny-pinching ways of Channel 12’s ownership. One evening, a young reporter was still in the newsroom long after his workday had ended, toiling away on a project. Ray asked him what he was doing. The reporter told him, and Ray said, “You do realize the company isn’t paying any overtime, right?” The reporter answered yes, and Ray said, “Well, I appreciate what you’re doing, but I think you should go home. If they’re not going to pay you, don’t give them your personal time. It’s not fair to you.” I really admired that. I have known managers who wouldn’t have an ounce of compassion if an employee was working for nothing. Not Ray White.
In 1988, Ray was hired by WKRG-TV in Mobile, where he became a mainstay on the anchor desk for 13 years. The station did a video tribute to him this week. In the 2000’s Ray and his wife Bonnie retired to Chattanooga, where he remained active in fraternity work and other projects. I would see him in a store occasionally in recent years, and he still had that sunny disposition.
It’s been a long time since Ray White was on local TV, so I guess it is understandable that his passing didn’t get much press or attention. But to me, he deserves more. He was one of the good guys. He enjoyed success in construction, politics, and journalism. Most important, he was a true family man, who had his heart, and priorities in the right place. I’m glad I got to work for him, and know him, even for just a brief time.
Click here for Ray White’s obituary from Covenant Funeral Home.