Pioneering photojournalist dies at 85
A photographer and musician whose twin passions earned him the Queen’s Certificate and Badge of Honour in 1996 has died. Gene Ray was 85.
Mr Ray captured island life in his lenses as well as visitors for more than 47 years as chief photographer for the Bermuda News Bureau, a predecessor of the Department of Communications.
But Mr Ray also had a life-long sideline as a musician and played guitar on the radio at age 14 and later was a popular performer at hotels and nightclubs around Bermuda. Mr Ray, the ninth of 11 children, came from a modest background on Hermitage Road in Devonshire.
He left school at 13 to work as a messenger for the Transport Control Board before he spotted an opening at the news bureau, where he was first a messenger and later in the darkroom.
He told The Royal Gazette in 2019: “I hadn’t had the slightest interest in photography before that.”
His widow, Candy Ray, said: “They were impressed with him. After maybe four years in the darkroom, a photography job came up and the head photographer, John Weatherill, took him under his wing.
“Obviously he had an eye to begin with, but he learnt by doing. A lot of Bermudians started that way in those days — many people with big businesses started from nothing.”
She added: “Gene didn’t have the education he wanted, so he paid a lot of attention to people in their element, and he learnt from them.”
Mr Ray visited hotels to photograph tourists for their home town newspapers, but went on to capture global news shots, such as President Dwight Eisenhower meeting British Prime Minister Harold Macmillan on the island in 1957.
Mr Ray took a one-year break from the bureau in 1959 and joined The Royal Gazette as the paper’s only news photographer on a salary of £30 a week.
The hours were long, and he had to pay for his own supplies.
He returned to the bureau in 1961 to cover Mr Macmillan’s talks with Mr Eisenhower’s successor, John F. Kennedy, and remained there until he retired in 1994.
The news bureau and its photography department was absorbed into Government Information Services.
Mr Ray’s musical career began as a country and western specialist and he performed with Tommy Horseman before he formed his own quartet at the Bermudiana Hotel.
But his style changed with the times, and in 1975, his future wife, on holiday alone for Christmas from New York, saw his act with his nephew Butch Ray at the Elbow Beach Hotel.
Ms Ray said: “I was dancing, and he came over and introduced himself. I liked that type of music — it was popular, but more the big band era and calypso.”
The couple started a long distance relationship that spanned New York to Bermuda and married in 1978.
Mrs Ray said they were both stubborn, and argued about music on the night they met.
She added: “I think he saw me as a challenge.”
Mr Ray later performed with guitarist and singer Ernest “Tojo” Philpott, and sometimes sat in with the Elbow Beach house band.
An eye problem ended his photographic career, but he continued to play guitar.
Ms Ray said: “He was very empathetic, the most generous person you would want to know. He would do whatever he could to help someone.”
Mr Ray’s funeral is scheduled for 3.30pm tomorrow, at Christ Church in Warwick.
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