CHARLOTTE (QUEEN CITY NEWS) — Charlotte’s oldest living resident Ira Bell Ray was 108 years old before her death on Tuesday.
Family and friends met Sunday at St. Paul Baptist Church to mourn and to celebrate Ray’s time on Earth. Ray’s closest family and friends described her as spicy, spunky and nice.
“This is a homegoing and celebration of life,” one of her granddaughters Shamira Ray said.
Ray was born on Oct. 4, 1913, in nearby Matthews, North Carolina. Eventually, she made her way to Charlotte where she met and married her late husband, Charlie Ray.
She was a faithful member of St. Paul Baptist Church since she joined in 1950. Longtime church friends Naomi Worthy and Janie Bittle said she embodied the church motto — “A Ray of Hope”.
“We sang in the choir together, she and I did,” Worthy said. “Very lively. She joked a lot.”
Bittle said it was a “blessing” to have Ray in the church.
“You don’t see too many people living to see what is promised to them, which is 70 years, so we were just so happy to have her,” Bittle said.
At 103 years old, Ray was recognized with a letter by President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama. It read: “Your story is an integral part of the American narrative and you have witnessed the best of what our nation has accomplished when we work together in the pursuit of a brighter tomorrow.”
Ray’s family said they will remember her as being an upright mother who taught valuable lessons and constantly encouraged her children to pursue a full education and continually reminded them to make the most out of their lives.
“I would like the community to remember her by being a positive person,” Shamira said. “Of course, being 108 years old she has survived a lot.. as far as her being a Black woman, how she has persevered through that in her time. Even in today’s culture, she still kept a positive attitude.”
“We are proud, and we’re honored that she showed us how to live a life full of longevity, a life that’s full of strength, joy, a life that cares about people around her,” Ray’s granddaughter, Roshenna Smith, said.