PORTLAND – The Rev. Walter Ray Jr., beloved pastor of Webbs Mills Free Baptist Church in Casco, who taught in Portland elementary schools for 26 years, died Tuesday of congestive heart failure. He was 79.

The Rev. Ray grew up in Auburn and moved to Portland in his early teens. He attended Portland High School. His daughter, Ruthann Ray, of Portland, spoke openly about his formative years and the night that changed his life. In his junior year of high school, he began hanging out with kids, who were known to cause trouble. One night – instead of going with them — he joined his brother at a “Youth for Christ” meeting at their church. That same night, three of his friends were arrested and put in jail.

“He was headed down the wrong path,” his daughter said. “That night, he was saved. He asked Jesus into his heart and to forgive his sins. He felt total peace in his life.”

The Rev. Ray graduated from Portland High School in 1954. He enrolled in the New Brunswick Bible Institute in Canada and was ordained as a Baptist minister in 1958.

He served as a pastor at churches in Portland, Bridgton, Casco and Otisfield. At the time of his death, he was pastor of Webbs Mills Free Baptist Church, where he served for the past 26 years. He led services on Sundays and Wednesdays for many years. Many of services were videotaped and broadcast on the Community Television Network in Portland, Bridgton and Harrison. He also taught Sunday school.

His daughter said he was admired and respected by the parishioners.

“He loved sharing about his lord and savior Jesus Christ and how he made such a difference in his life,” his daughter said. “He loved preaching the Bible and teaching the word of God.”

The Rev. Ray also taught in Portland elementary schools for 26 years. He began his career in 1968 at the former Baxter Elementary School on Ocean Avenue. He taught sixth grade and later fifth grade. From there, he taught fifth and fourth grade at Nathan Clifford School. He left teaching in 1993 to take care of his wife. Later, he taught again during brief stints at Hall and Reichi elementary schools.

His daughter, Olive Whitney, of Bath, said he loved teaching and watching students grow and learn.

“He was offered jobs to be principal, but he refused them because he wanted to work with the kids,” Whitney said. “Many kids would come back years later and say he was the best teacher they had.”

Whitney mentioned one student in particular, who rebelled against her father. She said the boy was hit by a car and her father held him and kept him calm until the paramedics arrived.

“The kid didn’t like my dad, and he still held and comforted him,” Whitney said, noting the boy later thanked her father for being there for him. “It was a blessing for him to hear.”

The Rev. Ray was a loving husband of Doris Ray for 43 years. She died in 1997 of kidney failure. He wore his wedding ring until the day he died. The couple raised five children.

He was remembered by his children Thursday as patient, calm, and kind-hearted guy who devoted his life to family and the community.

“He was an excellent father,” Ruthann Ray said.

Staff Writer Melanie Creamer can be contacted at 791-6361 or at:

mcreamer@pressherald.com