James R. "Rudy" Ray Sr., an automobile salesman whose personality and salesmanship made him a fixture at Park Circle Motor Co. in Northwest Baltimore for nearly two decades, died Tuesday at the Envoy Nursing Home in Pikesville.
The Woodmoor resident was 79.
The son of a Henry A. Frick Coal Co. miner and a homemaker, James Rudolph Ray Sr. was born and raised in Algoma, W.Va.
He was a 1952 graduate of Park Central High School in Bluefield, W.Va., and earned a bachelor's degree in social studies in 1956 from Bluefield State Teachers College.
After college, Mr. Ray moved to Baltimore in 1956 and found work as an auto salesman at Weiss Motor Co., at the corner of North Avenue and Howard Street, which at the time was the city's largest Ford dealership.
In 1960, Mr. Ray, who was known as "Rudy," was hired by Leslie Legum, chairman of the board of Park Circle Motor Co., which was founded in 1921 and sold General Motors automobiles.
"Jimmy Ray was one of the best salesman we ever had. He empathized with people and developed a great following," said Jeffrey A. Legum, son of Leslie Legum, who later became president of Park Circle Motor Co.
"He'd sell something like 40 cars a month. I think he was probably the best auto salesman in the country. He was just a terrific guy," said Mr. Legum, a Pikesville resident, who is now retired.
"He had an outsized personality and was far from being a run of the mill salesman. He had charisma," said Mr. Legum. "He was an everyman who could relate to people of all backgrounds."
It was not unusual for Mr. Ray to be the dealership's award-winning top salesman.
"It wasn't until I was a teenager that I learned he passed up numerous opportunities to take trips. He instead opted to take the household appliances and silver that was offered for top sales," said his daughter, Rhonda J. Ray, who lives in Baltimore.
"We still have the silver punch bowl he won in 1965 with the engraving recognizing his achievements," said Ms. Ray, who is director of government affairs for the state Department of Business and Economic Development.
Mr. Ray was a member of the Chevrolet Legion of Leaders, where he was recognized for his years of service and being a top salesman.
"My dad was a fantastic salesman. My brother and I joked that he could sell ice to an Eskimo. There was never a place we went where past customers would not stop us to say, 'Hey, Jimmy Ray, you sold me a car,'" said Ms. Ray.
Mr. Ray spent the last 14 years of his career at Fox Chevrolet, from which he retired in 1990.
He was a longtime active member of Concord Baptist Church, Gwynn Oak, where he was a member of the Laymen's League and was an adult Sunday school and Vacation Bible School teacher. He was a Bible scholar who had an in-depth knowledge of both the old and new testaments. He conducted the New Disciples Class and Monday Night Bible classes.
"It was common for church members to call him at home with questions about the Bible and what it teaches and he would take the time to have a short Bible lesson with them over the phone," recalled Ms. Ray. "He was always willing to share God's word for anyone who sought answers or counseling in situations."
In 1998, the church's Sunday school department honored Mr. Ray for his work at its annual Fellowship Awards Banquet, sponsored by the Baptist Congress of Christian Education Auxiliary of the United Baptist Missionary Convention of Maryland.
Mr. Ray was a member of Kappa Alpha Psi Inc., and assisted the local chapter with its annual car raffle fundraiser by obtaining a vehicle from his employer to be raffled off.
After retiring, he volunteered at Sinai Hospital helping orient new patients in an occupational rehabilitation program that he had completed himself.
"He was a very humble man and always wanted us to do our best without excuses. Failure was never an option for him. He wanted my brother and I to be honest, ethical people and upstanding citizens," said Ms. Ray.
"He believed in studying hard, working hard and fighting — never giving up," she said. "If you got dealt a raw deal or some unfair situation happened, he would tell us to get up and keep fighting. Keep pressing toward the mark."
Mr. Ray enjoyed following and discussing world affairs and politics.
"He loved working in his vegetable garden and growing the food that he ate. He liked being outdoors," said his son, James R. Ray Jr. of Columbus, Ohio. "His church work was a passion in later years. He also had been an old Baltimore Colts fan and was an Orioles and Ravens fan."
Funeral services for Mr. Ray will be held at 10:30 a.m. today at his church, 5204 Liberty Heights Ave.
In addition to his son and daughter, Mr. Ray is survived by his wife of 55 years, the former Ollie Jones; a sister, Rose R. Hawkins of Rainbow City, Ala.; a stepsister, Shirley Wilson of Durham, N.C.; and a grandson.
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