Ray’s story

Josh
Josh Pennell
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Live life to the fullest was late mayor’s message

One of Ray Parsley’s dying wishes was to have his story told.

Elizabeth Parsley holds a picture of her husband, Ray, who died on Mother’s Day. Ray was the mayor of Harbour Main-Chapel’s Cove-Lakeview. On the desk in the foreground is a picture of the family, taken in 2004. From top to bottom are Thomas, Kimberley, Ray, Elizabeth and Brandon.

The mayor of Harbour Main-Chapel’s Cove-Lakeview died on Mother’s Day after living with stomach cancer for 3 1/2 years. His wife, Elizabeth Parsley, who is deputy mayor of the municipality, is left now to tell Ray’s story for him.

While Ray wanted to leave a message about life, in speaking with Elizabeth Parsley it becomes clear his whole life was a message.

“He loved his family more than anything else in the world,” says Elizabeth.

His family devotion would mature early on. Ray’s mother had paraplegia, and when he was 11, he would take every second day off school to stay home and care for her. When he was 16, his mother went into a home.

“He went to the Hoyles Home to work, to be near her,” Elizabeth says.

“And he put himself through forestry school himself. Worked there nights and went to school during the day.”

Ray and Elizabeth had a daughter, Kimberley.

When Kimberley got older, both felt they still had family love to give. They adopted a young boy, Thomas. Later, Kimberley would adopt Thomas’s brother, Brandon, so that the two wouldn’t have to be apart.

Ray retired at 55 from his job as a Canadian Food Inspection Agency inspector.

“I want to come home and help you with the boys,” was his reason.

He became mayor in 2008. The town wasn’t in great shape when he took over, Elizabeth says, but because of his tireless devotion things are going quite well there today.

Ray was signing town documents two days before he died. The last two council meetings were held at his house, as he was bedridden.

When he was diagnosed 3 1/2 years ago, Ray never once thought he was going to die, says Elizabeth. He never thought that at all until January, when it was impossible not to think it.

“He didn’t listen like me and my daughter. We knew on the inside that it would take his life. And we didn’t want to destroy him,” his wife says.

Last July, the doctor told Ray to go home and get his affairs in order. Instead, he and Elizabeth said shag it and went to Florida to celebrate their 41st wedding anniversary. When they returned, he started chemotherapy and suffered a stroke. His wife wouldn’t let him go to palliative care, having made a promise to him that she never would.

Ray lost vision in one eye. He lost all mobility. But he never lost what was true in his heart.

“He never complained,” says Elizabeth. “But he suffered emotionally. Because the emotional thing of having the world in your hands and knowing that it was just going to be taken away and not knowing when.”

The message Ray was desperate to leave — so much so that he pondered asking a reporter to come out during his last months alive — was probably not unlike what a lot of people feel when they’re facing the undeniable end.

Elizabeth says Ray wanted to tell people to live life to the fullest. She says he may have been trying to say that the hard work may have taken something away from his life with his family.

Elizabeth wonders if perhaps Ray was wondering if he had worked a little too hard on other things. It seems obvious that only a man so devoted to family would possibly think he could have done more. It’s more likely he just wanted more time, considering what Elizabeth says Ray would have done if a reporter had shown up in time for him to tell his own story.

“Ray probably would have first cried. That’s the first thing he would have done. And then he would have said how important that life was for him and his family. And he just wanted more time. He had a job to do, he told me. He wanted the town to be in its best shape. He wanted to see his daughter married. He wanted a grandchild from her. And he wanted more years with me.”

It was during those years that Ray was working nights at the home where his mother was and studying when the patients fell asleep that Elizabeth met him.

“When I met him, he always told me, ‘My mother will come first, but the day I marry you, you will come first,’” she says.

Ray died on Mother’s Day. Elizabeth was rubbing his chest at home and telling him he could let go.

“I was never good at rushing,” he said to her.

Five minutes later he put his hands up in the air.

“It was the first time he had moved them in weeks. He put them in the air and said, ‘Guys, I gotta go. Whatever will be, will be.’”

josh.pennell@thetelegram.com

Organizations: Canadian Food Inspection Agency

Geographic location: Harbour Main-Chapel, Florida

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  • Lillian Gear
    May 22, 2014 - 11:51

    When I worked at the Hoyles Home back in 1966- Ray would come visit his mother every Sunday. Spend a few hours with her just chatting and playing catch up on the news back home. A lovely, caring, and devoted young man back then and right to the day he died.