Sylvia Kidd Ray, a Newton resident and retired managing editor of The Observer News Enterprise newspaper, died at her residence on Sunday after a period of ill health. She was 84.
Ray started her journalism career at the age of 7 at the newspaper with a column titled “My Cats.” A lifetime journalist, she was the managing editor at The Observer News Enterprise for 30 years and wrote a lifestyle column for the Hickory News. She won numerous North Carolina Press Association awards during her tenure and acted as a role-model and mentor for many journalists.
Ray was active in her community as a local historian throughout her life. She authored several booklets of local history and collaborated with Gary R. Freeze on his three volumes of county history, “The Catawbans” and his history of the City of Newton, “She Is Not Yet Finished.”
Ray also served as a consultant on local TV history documentaries and authored numerous magazine and newspaper special projects on local and regional history. She added commentary to the recently published book “Newton: Then and Now,” which was a reflection on the hometown that she loved dearly. At the time of her death, Ray was completing a written history, “Law and Order: The Sheriffs of Catawba County, North Carolina,” with her son Yerby, which chronicles all of the sheriffs elected to office and some of the major crimes the sheriffs worked.
“I have known Sylvia since childhood and she has always presented Newton in a loving and caring manner,” Newton Mayor Eddie Haupt said. “I can remember how she would come down to H&W Drug after the paper was printed each day to see their work and to gauge the reaction from my customers. She cared.”
“Just last week President Jimmy Carter reached out in a letter inquiring of her health and that she and our family was in his thoughts and prayers,” Luther Ray, her eldest son, said. Ray had formed a close personal relationship with the president in the late 1970s.
In 2014 Ray was bestowed The Order of the Long Leaf Pine by N.C. Gov. Pat McCrory for her community and civic work. Former N.C. Gov. James B. Hunt, a life-long friend of Ray, sent his condolences. “Sylvia was a treasure for western North Carolina, not only in her journalistic career but in her love of our state,” Hunt said.
In 1991, Ray debuted her acting skills alongside the Oscar-winning actress Reese Witherspoon in the made-for-television movie “Wildflower” that was shot on location in Catawba County and directed by Diane Keaton.
Ray served a pair of four-year terms (1992-2001) on the North Carolina Executive Mansion Fine Arts Committee. She was appointed by governors Jim Hunt and Mike Easley. In 1995 she was named Catawba County Business Woman of the Year.
Catawba County Board of Commissioners Chairman Randy Isenhower said, “Sylvia was a gracious lady and loved our county. She was our ambassador. She used her astounding knowledge of our history to promote our community and citizens for decades.” In 2017 she received the Spirit Award from the county commissioners.
She was a former president of the Catawba County chapter of United Daughters of the Confederacy and a former state officer in the organization. She held honorary life memberships in the Garden Club of North Carolina, Delta Kappa Gamma women educators’ international society, and the Newton-Conover Rotary Club.
Ray was a graduate of Newton-Conover High School, and obtained a bachelor’s degree from Lenoir-Rhyne University.
In addition to her long running journalism career, Ray periodically taught English at Bandys, Maiden, and Newton-Conover high schools.
Ralph Yerby Ray is the son of Sylvia Ray.