Renaissance Men

Bill Ray ’81 & son Travis ’11

By Leigh Brown Perkins

Billy Ray '80 with son Travis '11, a member of the Rollins improve troupe. Photo by Judy Watson Tracy.

Billy Ray '80 with son Travis '11, a member of the Rollins improve troupe. Photo by Judy Watson Tracy.

Running down a list of Bill and Travis Ray’s interests is like reading a course catalog for Rollins: everything from environmentalism to improvisational theater, with survival skills and psychology thrown in for good measure. Together they embody the liberal arts ideal, although they’re probably having too much fun to notice.

Hometown: Ocala (although Travis grew up in Beaverton, Oregon until midway through high school; dad Bill is a native of Clermont; they also lived a few years in Asheville, North Carolina)

Majors: Environmental Studies (Bill); Psychology with a Theatre Arts minor (Travis) Origin of the legacy: Bill was the first in his family to attend Rollins, although in the 1910s his grandmother received a full scholarship to the College (its terms did not include train fare so she was unable to enroll). “But it was really all about rowing for me,” Bill said. “My high school rowing coach rowed with Rollins coach Jim Lyden in Europe, and he told me that if you want to row, you really have only one choice: Rollins.”

Legacy pressure? Depends on whom you ask. Bill says he was “totally hands-off,” while Travis remembers dad applying a little pressure, “but being careful not to sell it too hard.”

Common bond: The Great Outdoors. Bill and wife Peggy (who were married in Knowles Chapel in 1987) decided early on to include Travis and his younger sister, Carley, in their passion for the wilderness. They heeded the advice of biology professor Ed Scheer, who told them when Travis was a baby, “Don’t wait for him to get old enough to climb a mountain. Take him with you.” And they did. Travis was still in elementary school when he summitted his first 10,000-foot mountain in Glacier National Park. The Rays have spent a month together traveling the Oregon Trail, and weeks camping while exploring the National Parks and Wilderness Areas. Travis opts for hikes over the beach on Fox Day, and Bill taught wilderness survival at one point—a skill that came in handy during at least one family outing. “We were hiking the Appalachians when I was about 10 and it was getting dark quickly—too dark to see the trail—and we knew there was a cliff drop-off somewhere nearby,” Travis said. “So Dad decided the safest thing to do was to stay put and sleep under the stars. He constructed a lean-to structure for us because we didn’t have a tent. And as soon as dawn broke, we hiked out safely. I thought it was really cool that my dad could take care of any situation. We weren’t even scared. Believe me, I have used that story for almost every essay any school has ever assigned to me.”

Known for: Talking. A lot. “You do not want to go on a long car ride with us,” Travis said.

Generation gap: Politics, naturally. “Every college kid should start out life as a liberal Democrat,” Bill said—although he admits his son keeps him open to the present. “As I’ve aged, I’ve become more jaded, but Travis reminds me to embrace experiences, to be in the moment.”

Sweet spot: U.T. Bradley Boathouse (Bill); the Green Room of the Annie Russell Theatre (Travis)

Flashback: Travis can tell his father’s favorite frat house story: In honor of Apocalypse Now, the TKEs threw a swamp party (with requisite libations and shoreline reeds taken from Lake Virginia for decorations), dry ice adding atmosphere and a sound system rocking the campus. Maybe too rocking. “It was so loud they got noise complaints from the airport and the police shut them down in about 15 minutes. Who gets noise complaints from an airport?”

Biggest change in 30 years: “The kids seem a lot younger today,” Bill said. “Maybe it’s the drinking age keeping them sociologically innocent a little longer, but for whatever reason, they don’t seem as mature in a lot of ways.”

Perfect day: “Junior year, rowing, meeting those guys in front of the Field House at 5 in the morning and running down to the boat house, being part of a fast crew on a mirror-calm Lake Maitland, watching the campus wake up, smelling jasmine along the fence. It was all perfect.” (Bill); “I’m not one of those people who will pull an all-nighter, but I wanted to see the sunrise over Lake Virginia, so I woke my girlfriend up really early and we went down to see the sunrise. It was pretty spectacular. And then I had improv later in the day. It was one of those days that just all came together perfectly.” (Travis)

The workaday: Owner and president of Ray & Associates, Bill is an environmental and land-use consultant, which was a fringe profession when he was one of the first to graduate with a Rollins environmental studies degree. “Ours was a fourth-generation land development family and we realized that regulations were going to determine the value of the land and the use of the land. We needed someone with environmental expertise in the family.”

Reminding us that to be in your early twenties is a beautiful thing, Travis remains undecided about his career goals, but entertains many possibilities, from working with the National Park System to joining an improv group to possibly entering land development like his dad—“Not directly in his footsteps, but I really do respect the new ideas he’s introducing to Central Florida, like walkability and sustainability. I admire it, but I’m still not sure I want it for a career.”

The truth: “Of course I’m jealous. He lives on the fifth floor of Sutton Place, overlooking Lake Virginia with two balconies. He can walk to Park Avenue with friends for lunch. He takes four hours of classes and has a few hours of studying,” Bill said. “I tell him to soak in every minute, because this ain’t real life. It’s heaven.”

The Rollins effect: “Every day I use the liberal arts philosophy in my life,” Bill said. “Environmental work is not biology or economics or ethics or architecture or political science; it’s all those things. My line of work is not about right and wrong. It’s about finding solutions. That’s the essence of a liberal arts education.”

Though he’s a psych major, Travis participated in a faculty research program with theatre professor David Charles on the long-form improv It’s All Greek to Me, an experience that challenged him intellectually and creatively. “I love that there is a vision here for every student and every professor to be multifaceted, to have multiple sources of interest. That’s a great attitude to have for your whole life.”