DES MOINES — Representatives of Iowa’s Asian community will have a special role in the statehouse ceremony honoring former Iowa Governor Robert D. Ray, who died Sunday at the age of 89.
Iowans are being invited to line up Thursday afternoon to pay their respects to Governor Ray on Thursday evening at the capitol. David Oman, who served as the governor’s chief of staff, said Ray will be the tenth Iowan to lie in state in the rotunda.
“Three wreaths will be laid by the governor’s casket, which will be draped in an American flag,” Oman said.
In a brief ceremony at five o’clock, a red wreath will be placed by the governor’s four granddaughters.
“The second white wreath will be brought forward by six representatives of the Asian community,” Oman said.
Governor Kim Reynolds will place the third wreath and then those six Iowans who were Vietnam War refugees or their descendants will be the first in line to pass by Ray’s casket. Ray invited Vietnam’s Tai Dam community to settle in Iowa in the mid-1970s, then Ray led the effort at the end of that decade to have thousands of the so-called “Vietnamese boat people” settle here.
“Governor Ray’s relationship with the Asian community and his with them is pretty well known and some of the most heartfelt, emotional, moving tributes have come from some whose lives were saved or the children or grandchildren of people whose lives were saved,” Oman said.
Oman, during a news conference with reporters on Tuesday, described Ray as a “courageous moral leader” whose impact as governor extended around the globe when it came to the refugees of the Vietnam War.
“Of course it’s a sensitive subject, but it’s an important subject and there may be more contrasts these days than parallels,” Oman said. “…The era was different back then.”
By 1978, Ray had been elected governor five times and Oman said that gave Ray the political capital to ask Iowans to help.
“This small state, one percent of the population of our country, in the middle of the heartland, could put our heart in play,” Oman said.
There was some controversy, Oman admitted, but the refugees were “at great peril” and when all the other states passed, Ray led Iowa to step up.
“I’m not going to comment on the scene today, but maybe lessons that were learned there, hard-earned, could be looked at again,” Oman said. “And, by the way, all the people who came to Iowa — this is important to note — were political refugees, so they were legal (immigrants) and now you’ve got children, maybe grandchildren of those men and women who are in our schools and some are valedictorians and they’re going to college and they’re contributing to a much more diverse society but, in a way, to a much more diverse economy.”
On Thursday evening, kiosks will be set up inside the capitol for Iowans to leave their own personal messages to the Ray family. Officials are urging those who wish to file by Ray’s casket to arrive early, as they will have to go through a security checkpoint. People will be allowed to begin passing by Governor Ray as he lies in state at 5:30 p.m. The capitol doors will close to visitors at 8:30 p.m.
Ray’s funeral will be held Friday at 1 p.m. You may watch a video livestream of the funeral here, starting at 12:30 p.m. Friday.
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