Everyone who knew James Walter Ray knew him as Butch Ray. At age 79 he died in his sleep Wednesday morning, September 28, 2022 at his home in Gilbert where he had lived for almost 50 years. He was born August 6, 1943 to James Walter Ray Sr. and Leah Sabin. He was the 4th of six children, 3 sisters and 2 brothers who were raised on south Lazona Drive in Mesa, Arizona. His brother Wilford died as an infant.
Butch participated in the band, pole vaulting and FFA at Mesa High School graduating in 1961. He attended BYU for one year and served a 2 year mission for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints in Idaho in the Northwestern States Mission.
Butch married Linda Diane Merrill on September 9, 1976 in Mesa. Linda brought a son, Jared Brown, to the marriage and Butch brought a daughter and a son, Tanis and Mike. Soon after their marriage Sharon Esson, age 14, came to them as a bonus child. Together they had four more children, Rocky, Sam, Jalin and Susie making eight children in total.
Butch worked on his father’s dairy from a young age and suffered a leg injury at age 8 when he fell into a corn chopper. He was lucky to have survived. Butch was no stranger to hard work managing a dairy where there was work to do 7 days a week. He and his brother Lyal took over Racrest Dairy after their father had a stroke and Butch later bought out Lyal when he moved to Texas. One of his greatest skills was fixing motors, engines or anything with moving parts. When the dairy sold, Butch continued in the agriculture business driving his own truck hauling hay and green chop. After his personal truck was destroyed by a fire, he drove a truck for Pete Harris of Dark Thirty Trucking well past retirement age.
In the 70s and 80s Butch was an avid competitor in Tractor Pulls, actually building the tractor with Jim Harris. He traveled to California as well as eastern states placing at the top in many competitions. In his younger years he won many trophies in drag racing at the Bee Line Race Track. He liked to go fast and knew how to rev up the engine!
He is survived by his devoted wife Linda, 8 children—Tanis Crofford (Steve) of Gilbert; James Mikel (Katie Ewing) of Mesa; Jared Merrill Brown (Marliena Ellis) of Mesa; Sharon Esson Perez (“Sonny” Manuel) of Olney, Texas; “Rocky” Calvin Philip Ray (Lorie McBride) of Las Cruses, NM; Samuel Isaac Ray (Michelle Martinez) of Casa Grande; Jalin Klemme (Patrick) of Glendale; Susan Garcia of Gilbert; He was blessed with numerous grandchildren and great grandchildren; Sisters, Leah Elaine Ashcroft (Phillip—deceased) of Mesa, Glenna Shappell (Lyle) of Gilbert, and his brother Lyal Harold Ray (Dorothy) of Selma, California.
He is preceded in death by a brother, David Wilford Ray and a sister Margo Wendelboe (Charles Alison Wendelboe–deceased) as well as his parents.
After a cancer diagnosis in 2013, Butch had life altering health issues as well as extreme knee pain. Despite the struggles Butch demonstrated unwavering faith, wanting to be in church every week. He was a kind hearted man, considerate of others, always finding the good in people. Through the years he always carried a positive attitude even in the midst of trials.
Butch will be missed!
Arrangements by Bunker’s University Chapel, www.bunkerfuneral.com. Should this obituary appear anywhere but bunkerfuneral.com, please check our website for accurate details and service information.
From Toni Heilman: Please accept my deep condolences on the death of your husband and father. I was always impressed with his dedication to his family and friends and all with whom he came in contact. I could feel his genuine love for others, and was the recipient of his help on several occasions. What a fine man! And now enjoying the love and happiness of his Savior! Best wishes to the family. Always remember his greatness.
Butch and my father were good friends. I have personally known him since my teenage years, and while working in the tire business remember many a time going on service calls with my dad to repair tractor tires at Butch’s dairy on Williams Field Road. We also repaired many of his vehicles at Dana Tire Co over the years. I always vividly remember Butch’s modified pickup trucks that we would install straight pipe exhaust on. Still can hear that rumble! I will remember him fondly, and am saddened to see him go. I loved this man, and feel enriched as a person to have known and associated with him. I will greatly miss him! Rest in peace, Butch, after a life well lived and may the Lord comfort and bless Linda and his wonderful family as well.
Dear Linda and Family,
We love you and are so grateful for the love and friendship we have shared over the years. I remember when we first were building our house here in Gilbert, 45 years ago, Gordon’s truck was stuck in the mud, because of the rain, and Butch came with his tractor to pull him out, late in the night. He answered many questions for us as we learned how to care for a milk cow. His faithfulness to come to church each week, in these last several years, was such a good example to me. We will miss him, and love the strength we have gained from both he and you.