Monday, September 09, 2019

On the Passing of Ray Nichols


 The Contemplative Camper (1985)

We lived in New Orleans for fourteen years and Ray and Bev Nichols were a big part of our lives. In the 80’s, we spent a lot of time together. Holidays, birthdays, weekend camping trips to their land on the north shore of Lake Pontchartrain and vacations away. We worked hard during the week and played hard on the weekends.

Three weeks ago, we heard shocking news. Ray didn’t want anyone to know he was ill and then three weeks later he was gone.

Ray was a Human Resources manager at the electric utility company I worked for and he hired Becky. They were a great recruiting team and he happily taught her everything he knew about “personnel management,” as it was called back then. They left the utility to form the Crescent Group and provided management services to New Orleans clients before we moved to Maryland. Together, they helped me be a better supervisor.

We just returned from New Orleans where a ‘Celebration of Life’ was held for Ray. In the 30 years since we moved away, Ray devoted much of his energies to civic engagement and community improvement. After Katrina, he supported many young professionals in their efforts to make New Orleans and Louisiana better.

The Celebration included photographs projected onto multiple screens across the venue. Almost all the shots from the 80’s were ours and a few of them are included here. 

When the time came for people to take the mike and contribute a story or an appreciation of Ray, I had to add a more distant memory. The biggest laugh I got was recalling the Contemporary Art Center fundraiser he and Bev took me to. The theme was “Bourbon and Burlesque.” Craft bourbons everywhere and classic tassel-twirling tootsies everywhere else. I said I knew no one else who could drive that well that liquored-up.

Ray on the Upper Mississippi River (August 1985)

In the summer of 1985, we drove from New Orleans to Wisconsin and tried to do as much as we could along the Mississippi River. There are some high bluffs on the Wisconsin side of the river that provide a fine vantage point.

Trees Feared Him (Camping, 1986)

Ray and Bev owned a few acres of undeveloped piney woods land on the north shore of Lake Pontchartrain. When it wasn’t stinky hot, we would load up his truck with everything that would be fun to have in the woods…big tent, coolers of food and drink, chaise lounges, hammocks, a boom box. You get the picture. Here is the Great Hunter showing a tree who is boss.

Despair in Halifax (October 1987)

One of our favorite adventures was a wonderful trip to Nova Scotia. The overnight ferry from Portland, Maine dropped us off in Yarmouth and for the next couple of days, we reveled in the peak fall colors and rocky coastal scenery. After all, we lived in New Orleans where autumn isn’t nearly as spectacular and the nearest natural rocks of any kind are hundreds of miles to the north.

Then we arrived in Halifax. We thought that would be an ideal place to stop for the night…get some better accommodations, have more eating options and appreciate the sights of the provincial capital. There we were on the ramparts of an old colonial fort and Ray was despondent. After all the open road and autumn splendor, he wanted nothing to do with a city. Bev tried to console him but he was not going to be happy until Halifax was in our rear-view mirror. 

Ray Defending Nova Scotia (October 1987)

While visiting an old French colonial fort, Ray thought it only appropriate to light off his small canon with a French Bic lighter.

Ray’s Postponed 60th Birthday Party, New Orleans (12 October 2007)

Ray turned 60 in 2005, five weeks after Hurricane Katrina changed everything in New Orleans. It took two years to make life right enough to celebrate. Bev arranged a very special lunch in a private room in the classic French Quarter restaurant, Galatoire’s. Ray invited only women guests and requested that they all wear hats. I was included only because he wanted me to photograph it all. Tough assignment.

Later That Day, Ray’s Postponed 60th Birthday,
New Orleans (12 October 2007)

After the lunch at Galatoire’s, a few of us repaired to Mimi’s in the Marigny, a fine bar on Royal Street beyond the French Quarter. The tropical look of the Coffee house across the street made me want to give the shot an antique sepia tone. Ray and Bev’s fancy duds aside, it made me think we were in Havana or some other exotic tropical locale.

During my run as a manager and evaluator of environmental professionals, I learned from both Beck and Ray. I’ll always remember one of Ray’s classic dictums –

First class people hire first class people.
  Second class people hire third class people

Does that observation remind you of anyone we know in Washington?
Who do third class people hire?

Ray’s Hat at Galatoire’s (12 October 2007)

Rest in peace, Ramon.


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