“A Gentleman Farmer Broadcaster,” Ray Wilkinson

Throwback Thursday: CBC History

While rummaging through the CBC trunk of historical treasures, it became apparent that there is one person who has garnered more awards, plaques, trophies, certificates of appreciation than any other person; Ray Wilkinson.

Ray Wilkinson

Ray Wilkinson

There is so much to say about the professional life of Ray Wilkinson, VP of Capitol Broadcasting and accomplished reporter on all aspects of agriculture in North Carolina. To that end, I commend to you the CBC History website. But for the personal side of Ray, keep reading.

When you look up the meaning of ‘avuncular’ in the dictionary, there should be a picture of Ray Wilkinson. Meeting Ray for the first time was like meeting an old friend you haven’t seen in ages. His eyes twinkled and his smile stretched from ear to ear. He wanted to know everything about you. It did not matter what your position in life was, Ray could somehow identify with your plot. His kindhearted personality endeared him to everyone.

When Ray entered a room, the place brightened with his presence. Martha Wittman, former employee at Tobacco Radio Network, remembers how Christmas really brought out the fun side of Ray. Back in the late 70’s – early 80’s, she said he would gather the whole farm department to go Christmas caroling from one CBC location to another. Jolly Ray would jingle and ring the bells, and sing along with the gang. He gave NC peanuts to each person he encountered while making the caroling rounds.

Martha also remembers the thrifty side of Ray. Never letting the VP title go to his head, he was willing to get his hands dirty while trying to save some money. Ray happened to be walking by the dumpsters behind the television station when he saw someone tossing old one inch videotapes into the garbage. When Ray saw what was happening, he leapt into action and jumped into the dumpster, wearing his three piece suit, and retrieved the tapes so he could reuse them. Talk about frugal!

One other memory, courtesy of Martha, is how devoted Ray was to his family. Wednesday night was family night and he always made sure that time was dedicated to that single purpose.

Clarence Williams, director/producer, fondly remembers how Ray kept up with the lives of his friends and co-workers. If there was a birth; expect a handwritten card of congratulations. If there was a death, expect a handwritten card expressing peace and assurance. In person, you could expect to receive a warm embrace around your shoulder. On any day, expect a piece of candy! No matter who entered his orbit, Ray would brighten their day.

Ray Wilkinson & Bob Sadler

Ray Wilkinson (left) with Bob Sadler

As you can tell, Ray was both frugal and generous. Bob Sadler, retired local production photographer, shared his memories of times with Ray. “Ray had a reputation as being the Scrooge of Farm Broadcasting. He could squeeze the budget tighter than a woodworker’s vise. One day I saw another side of Ray that many people had never seen. After a hard day in the heat, we finally found time for dinner so we stopped in one of those local mom and pop restaurants. After the waitress had taken our order Ray looked at me and said ‘She’s had a long and hard day – look how tired she looks.’ He was right; she was worn out and looked it. After dinner Ray paid the bill and as we were leaving Ray pulled out some money and gave it to her. She looked up, her face brightened, she smiled, and I thought she was going to cry. I don’t know how much money he gave her, but it must have been one heck of a tip. I think maybe there was a softer side to my friend Ray Wilkinson than most people realized.”

On the fun, spur-of-the-moment side of Ray, Bob fondly remembers this tale from the road. “Each summer when the tobacco markets started opening, Ray and I would follow the openings from North Carolina through South Carolina, Georgia, on down to Florida. It was about five days of shooting in very hot and humid conditions. One day as we were driving to the next location, Ray suddenly pulled onto a side road. We came upon a state park with a lake. Ray looked at me and said ‘let’s go swimming!’ We were soon in the cool lake water and spent a lovely 30 minutes swimming; it was the best part of the trip.”

For those of us who knew Ray, we can say, without a shadow of a doubt, that our lives are richer thanks to his friendship. We are thankful for the time we had in his orbit.

Thanks to Corp’s Pam Allen for this capcom story & these photos. Pam Parris Allen is a former WRAL newscast producer/director who now works as a researcher and producer on the CBC History Project.

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