Family, friends and associates of the late Bedford County Mayor Eugene Ray gathered on Saturday, Sept. 18, at Bedford County Justice Complex to celebrate the naming of State Route 437 as the Mayor Eugene Ray Memorial Highway.
The ceremony was to have been held on the bypass, but had to be moved indoors due to weather conditions.
Several speakers noted the appropriateness of the venue; it was Ray who often had to keep the justice complex project moving forward, warning county commissioners of the consequences if the State of Tennessee decertified the county jail.
The facility finally opened in December 2019, a few months after Ray’s passing. Those attending the ceremony were able to watch a live stream as a sign was unveiled at the bypass’s northwestern end by a sheriff’s deputy.
Ray, who won state acclaim for strengthening the county’s financial management and worked to bring the county more options for higher education, died Aug. 7, 2019, at age 82. Ray left office at the end of August 2018 after 12 years as Bedford County’s first African-American county mayor and 28 years before that as a county commissioner. He chaired the county commission for years as a commissioner and continued to chair it as mayor.
Speakers at the dedication ceremony praised Ray as a servant leader, a man of faith and compassion.
One of Ray’s daughters, Dr. Kertrina Brame, quoted Philippians 4:13, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me,” in reference to her father.
Granddaughter Mary Avent noted that Ray took great pride in Shelbyville and Bedford County and would talk about them to everyone he encountered while traveling.
Grandson Charles Avent Jr. said that it was appropriate that a bypass was named for Ray.
“He was never afraid to bypass and get things done,” said Avent.
Bedford County Clerk and Master Curt Cobb, a close associate of Ray’s, listed all of the projects accomplished or begun during Ray’s time in office, including Middle Tennessee Education Center; new buildings for Community High School and Cascade High School; an all-new school, Learning Way Elementary; the jail and judicial complex; the 231 North Business Park; and Bedford County Courthouse Annex.
Cobb also noted the creation of county finance and information technology departments under Ray’s administration.
State Sen. Shane Reeves quoted his father, former Murfreesboro Mayor Richard Reeves: “There is not a finer man than Eugene Ray,” Richard Reeves told his son.
“I miss him every day,” said State Rep. Pat Marsh, who would introduce him as “the best mayor in all of Tennessee.”
Tennessee General Assembly must approve memorial names on state highways. Reeves and Marsh requested that Ray be honored after receiving a resolution of support from Bedford County Board of Commissioners.
Charles Avent thanked the General Assembly, county commissioners, various local agencies, and the committee which put together Saturday’s event. Anthony Booker, minister of Bird Street Church of Christ, gave the invocation for the event.
Before his election as county mayor, Ray had worked at the U.S. Air Force Arnold Engineering Development Complex and as a real estate agent.
A video of the ceremony can be viewed at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DEkYyMAbooU