Musings and Recollections
on James Widener Ray
Everyone who knew Jim Ray has at least one great story about him.
The stories are as richly varied as the characters who tell them — the matronly furniture saleswoman who imbued Jim with the esoterica of the Eames chair he was about to buy from her; the heavily tattooed laborer swinging a pick-axe for the new sewer line to his Capitol Hill “sanctuary;” jazz flutist, Herbie Mann, sipping morning coffee across from Les McCann, chewing an English muffin in Jim’s kitchen the morning after a Foundation-sponsored benefit for early prostate testing. All social strata, all walks of life, all colors of the rainbow and then some – Tarot-reading hippies, a Buddhist priest, flower arrangers; physicians, musicians, wealth management bankers, water colorists, Third Degree Masons, shamans and charlatans, poseurs, hustlers and hucksters. All of these and many more walked into the welcoming presence of Jim’s life and largesse. When each one left, they departed a valued and esteemed friend to Jim, welcome back at any time.
New friends quickly became old friends, returning to Jim’s home for unexpected visits and for exotic and exciting events. Like the Naked Duck Pool Parties: the swimming pool brimming with the handsome, wholesome, full-bodied, sagging, balding and be-sparkled, the full-throttled water-play of adults being children for the afternoon, eating popsicles, potato chips and barbequed hot dogs. Friends arriving empty handed for impromptu jam sessions, choosing from a near-orchestra’s array of instruments: pianos, vibraphones, timbales, pan pipes, castanets, snare drums and tin whistles; guitars and Jews harps, triangles and glockenspiels, violins and trombones. At times profoundly serious in its music making, bossa nova rhythms pulsing up the curving grand stairway, lifting frequently discordant jazz harmonies through the oculus and into the night. More frequently the pure cacophony of making a joyful sound, reverberating through the giant opened glass doors, echoing off the slate patio floors beneath the balcony overhang, the volume momentarily scudding across the lawns before launching into the tall trees at the edge of the property and out across Portage Bay to the north.
Jim’s table at Thanksgiving was always crowded with holiday orphans, those with no welcoming families, characters from the fringes of social propriety, sometimes bringing their mothers along to meet this unusual and very wealthy man. The cornucopia of characters at the 1700 House complimented the decor of Jim’s home. Small curios found at garage sales, gathered by Jim and arrayed on a table beneath John Singer Sargent’s charcoal portraits of Jim’s Great Grandfather, PAB Widener; shelving from floor to ceiling, doorways to window casings filled with DVDs and CDs of jazz musicians, Mo Town, Rock n’ Roll, frequently multiple copies, unopened, of the same items. Nooks and crannies in the rambling house were turned into small altars with Ganesh statues, tiny bowls of uncooked rice, incense burners, draped in Buddhist prayer flags alongside Hebrew mezuzahs, rococo crucifixes, and New Years Eve party hats and noise makers. Jars filled with coins from Italy, Spain, Holland, unspent from the last sojourn awaiting the next. In the foyer to the powder room, oil portraits of the grand dames of the Widener family were curiously hanged, the intimacy of the room warm and inviting – Fifi, Hannah, Joan – the mothers and daughters of Jim’s ancestry and the source of his inheritance.
Indeed, the stories of Jim Ray all seem larger than life.
What They Say About James Widener Ray…
(Click on quotes in red for full article)
“The Nicest Guy You Never Knew”
The Seattle Times
“Jim Ray…was an engaged steward of the arts…as acutely aware of the nuanced differences in a flautist treble as he was likely to help a friend in trouble.”
-Rick Silverman, Director
Mountainfilm in Telluride
“Jim was one of those rare human beings filled with the challenges of life and enthralled with the possibilities of what could be. He was gentle, generous, stubborn, demanding, filled with fight and overflowing with compassion.”
-Obituary of James Widener Ray
“While he was here, Jim didn’t just take up space. He chose to do something to make a difference. His way was by allowing those with a passion to have the opportunity to do the same. Everyone around Jimmy shared his wild ride. He had a glow of life in him that was undeniable. He was sensitive, and had a spirit that was constantly vibrating. He liked it on the edge. He liked the ‘steepest and deepest,’ and if you were anywhere within reach, you would be snatched up and taken along for the unpredictable ride.”—Lissa Margetts, Founder, Rocky Mountain Ark
“Jim had a smile like the Buddha might smile – like he knew something special. There are some insights that are beyond explanation. “—Overton Barry, Recording Artist, Piano Teacher and Friend
“Jimmy built a home fired by a fetish for eagles. He bought them, and he had them made. One night we waddled through the house and tallied the eagle count at 148. There must have been 20 or 30 we missed, stuffed in drawers, carved into finials, embroidered into washcloths…probably a bunch of them are still there.”—Gary Duncan, Contractor
“Jim liked to imagine his own alter ego. He pictured himself in some other time and place and reality as a talented, quirky piano-playing lounge lizard—one that plays far out eclectic music and maintains a minor celebrity. People would know him as nothing more than a piano player in a lounge, but really, he was a mystical wizard. He called himself Lapis Raynier.”—Tom Blaess, Friend