George Ray introduced recipes, persuaded viewers to buy bluegrass music, and cast his affable personality across airwaves for some 50 years.
Long before “Top Chef” and “Barefoot Contessa,” George Ray hosted “KCTS Cooks” a live show that brought cooks and recipes from around Washington state into the studio of Seattle’s public-TV station.
“It was early reality TV. It was live, live,” said chef and food business owner Kathy Casey, Mr. Ray’s co-host in the late 1990s. A guest chef once set off fire alarms, causing an evacuation and delay, Casey said. She and Mr. Ray wanted to have arriving firefighters on the show, but their producer refused, she said. Mr. Ray resorted to on-air quips about the show being “flaming hot,” she said.
As for his affable prowess as the station’s fundraising anchor, one viewer wrote the station about how she ended up with a collection of bluegrass music courtesy of KCTS 9: “Much as I enjoy the odd bit of bluegrass, what on earth am I doing with a box set??! How did it happen?? George’s impassioned oratory and engaging personality, that’s how.”
Mr. Ray, who retired in 2012, died Thursday of kidney failure in a Puyallup nursing facility, said his son Doug Raubacher. He was 85.
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Raubacher said “Ray” was a stage name for his father, who started his broadcasting career in 1954.
“George had a rare and special gift of being able to look through the camera lens and talk to one person on the other end. He had a relationship with the viewer,” said Stephen Hegg, a longtime KCTS 9 producer who worked with Mr. Ray.
Mr. Ray, whose father was a Wisconsin newspaper sports editor, believed deeply in public television, his son said.
His 50-year broadcasting career began in Illinois and included interviews with President John F. Kennedy on Air Force One, and Arkansas Gov. Orval Faubus, who fought the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling on school integration in 1957. Mr. Ray also worked alongside legendary sportscaster Keith Jackson, whom he replaced on KOMO TV, according to Raubacher. Mr. Ray started at KCTS 9 in 1976.
He loved baseball, football, travel and history, particularly books about World War II, said William Kimball, his companion of 40 years. And there was Yahtzee. “Yahtzee would go everywhere and anywhere we went. We always had a Yahtzee board with us,” Kimball said.
In jest, Mr. Ray told Kennedy he was a Republican and voted for his opponent, Kimball said. Kennedy told Mr. Ray to start walking toward the back of the plane before he told the pilot to open a door and let Mr. Ray out.
Mr. Ray later got a note from the president thanking him for providing some humor at a time when Kennedy said he needed it.
Mr. Ray was also passionate about food. “He loved every aspect of food, the talking about, the cooking, especially the testing!” wrote Carol Dearth, a chef, cooking-school owner and Mr. Ray’s co-host on “KCTS Cooks” for his last seven years on the show.
“He was the man you saw on TV. That was not a persona, it was George — his personality shining through each and every broadcast,” she said in an email.
Mr. Ray’s magnetism attracted fans, said Raubacher. “It was weird to have people walk down the street and ask my dad for an autograph,” he said.
He made people feel comfortable, particularly on-camera, Casey said, herself included. “He made everybody feel welcome — and you know he’s doing that upstairs right now at the big dinner table in the sky.”
In addition to Kimball and son Doug, Mr. Ray’s survivors include daughter Ione Raubacher, his brother John Raubacher and eight grandchildren. The family has not yet planned a memorial service.
“George was a loved member of the KCTS 9 family and served our community and the station with great distinction. He will be missed by all of us,” said station President and CEO Rob Dunlop.