H. A. "Buck" Bray Jr., printer to the Baltimore Orioles, sportsman and bon vivant, died Wednesday of heart failure at his Severna Park home. He was 86.
A member of the Boumi Temple for five decades, Mr. Bray joined his brother, Gerald, in the family's French-Bray printing business in 1942 after graduating from Polytechnic Institute and spending a few years as a semi-professional football and baseball player.
His presence in the firm was quickly felt when he capitalized on his contacts in the sports world to secure an exclusive contract to print game programs for the Orioles, launching a relationship that endures to this day. The firm recently printed 250,000 copies of the official Cal Ripkin Jr. commemorative book.
"It wasn't long after he joined the company that French-Bray was handling the printing business for all four Baltimore teams -- the Colts, the Orioles, the Clippers and the Bullets," said his son, H. A. "Bucky" Bray III. "Dad went to all the big sports banquets in New York and Washington. He knew all the players and owners. These guys were his friends."
For years, Mr. Bray held court for visiting dignitaries of the game at the old Emerson Hotel on Baltimore Street. One day, he could be seen mowing through a steaming platter of crabs with Bill Veeck, owner of the Chicago White Sox and Cleveland Indians. The next night, he'd be at the bar, downing beers with Mickey Mantle and Whitey Ford.
"He was a relentless salesman, but with none of the negative connotations that might suggest," said John Steadman, sports columnist for The Sun and a family friend. "He was a generous man who truly loved people, and he had so many friends that if there was business to be done he'd know about it."
And he loved the sporting life.
When he wasn't out seeking printing contracts or entertaining visiting sportsmen, he could often be found at Colts and Orioles games at Memorial Stadium, where he moonlighted as a ticket-taker for so many years that he eventually became the head man.
Said Mr. Steadman: "He was such a familiar face at the ballpark that if you went there and didn't see him, you felt unfulfilled."
But Buck Bray was hard to miss. Standing six feet tall, he had a voice like rolling thunder, a belly laugh that could fill a room and a smile so wide it stretched almost from ear to ear.
"The first time you heard it, that voice could scare you," said Larry Beck, 70, a friend for 30 years. "It was this big, deep, booming voice that could make the hair stand up on your neck. He was a tough man, too, a man's man. Always told it like it was. But when you got to know him, you'd find out he was a sweetheart underneath all that."
Mr. Beck, a fellow member of the Boumi Temple, got his first
taste of Mr. Bray's imposing presence when he joined the fraternal organization in 1966. As director of the Shrine's "Wrecking Crew," Mr. Bray oversaw the initiation rites of Shriner hopefuls.
"Let's just say he really worried us," Mr. Beck says with a laugh. "He made it a very memorable occasion. He is known to this day as one of the best we ever had. He loved parties. He loved his brothers in the Temple. And he loved life."
Peggy Molloy Bray said that's what she will remember most about her husband.
"His lightness and gayness just captivated me from the moment I met him," she said, recalling the night in 1964 when they were introduced by mutual friends in a chance encounter at a restaurant. "I have a lot of very pleasant memories of him -- the parties, the good times, traveling all over the world. I always liked fun guys, and Buck was a fun guy to the very end."
Services will be held today at 10 a.m. at Barranco & Sons Funeral Home, 495 Ritchie Highway, Severna Park. Interment will be at Gardens of Faith Cemetery in Golden Ring.
In addition to his wife and son, survivors are a daughter, G. Jane Reillo of Baltimore; a stepdaughter, Dale C. Cannella of Severna Park; nine grandchildren, 14 great grandchildren and numerous nieces and nephews.
The family suggested memorial contributions to the Boumi Temple Shriner's Crippled Children's Hospital Fund, 4900 N. Charles Street, Baltimore 21212.