There were two dozen roses in the bunch presented to Gail Boylan at her home this morning, a home made emptier by half on Aug. 24 when her husband of 56 years, Raymond—always known as Ray—died of a heart attack after battling cancer. He was 76. The roses, presented to Gail by John Winston, T.C. Culver and other members of the executive board of the Flagler County’s African American mentor Program, tell Ray’s story.
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Seventeen roses were red, the color signifying the love his fellow-mentors felt for him. Six roses were black, symbolizing the six black students he mentored over the years since joining the program. One of those students was in the house, presenting the flowers to Gail: Shakir Ali Terry, a senior in high school, now carrying a 3.0 GPA and hoping to land at Flagler College after graduation (and a stint working at the office of Sid Nowell, the attorney in Bunnell). Gail hugged and kissed Shakir with the pride of a mother, though Shakir’s mother, Francine Boykin, was there, too. Ray referred to the three students he was mentoring to the last days of his life as “my three sons.”
There was also the 24th rose. The white rose. White, symbolizing not purity in this case, though it might as well have too, but Ray himself: the one white man, the one white mentor, in a group of 30-odd black mentors mentoring black or Latino students. He referred to himself as “the vanilla cupcake in a sea of chocolate éclairs.” And so he was, though “éclaire” is French for lightning, which every mentor, whatever his color, intends to be with his charges. Ray certainly was.
The loudly ticking grandfather clock in the living room strikes the quarter hour just as Gail talks of what Ray’s presence meant in the lives of the boys he mentored. That presence, she says, isn’t gone. His pledge is still with them. “You have to believe that,” Gail says. “It’s hard for me, it’s hard for everyone. But you know, you get up in the morning, and you just go on with your life, because he’s up there. Believe me.”
His temperament? Either get it done, or don’t do it, and try something else. That’s how Winston—with Jim Guines and Culver, one of the founders of the program—remembers Ray. Winston conveys that expectation to other mentors. There are 32 of them right now, down from 47.
“But through attrition, age,” Winston said, explaining how the numbers fell somewhat. “One who called me the other day and said, John, I’m 80 years old, I don’t think I can do this anymore, I’ve had some recent illnesses, and I said, I know, but think about Ray. Think about what Ray went through. And he was much younger. But it’s got to come from your heart. And he said, ‘I knew I was going to get one of these Boylan speeches.’ He said I knew that was coming. He said, Ok, ok, I’m going to go back to school, but you guys, you need to do this, and he gave me a list of things he needed. That’s what makes this program.”
In other words, it’s about the follow-through. Students who think they’re in for a few years with their mentors are in for a surprise. Mentors latch on. They don’t let go. “I’m proud of the 30 people that we have now,” Allen Harrelll, a history teacher at Indian Trails Middle School, said. “When you’re starting an organization, it is not unusual to recruit the careless, especially when you’re in a rush to start. You can recruit the careless. But we have guys who are really dedicated.”
Ray Boylan was born in Queens, N.Y., on Aug. 14, 1934. He was in the U.S. Navy for 23 years, retiring as a lieutenant and becoming a television meteorologist in Jacksonville (WTLV-12) and Charlotte, N.C. (WSOC-9 and WCNC-6), for the next 20 years before retiring in Palm Coast in 2000, in a house along the canal’s in the city’s older section off of Palm Harbor Parkway. He and Gail had five children, two of whom—Janet Rotundo, the oldest, and Donna South—were at the house this morning. Carol Keenan, Patrick and Peggy Boylan are the others.
Ray, who needed oxygen and used an electric wheelchair, was working with his fellow-mentors almost literally to his last day, even after suffering a “silent” heart attack a few days before his death.
“Did he ever say anything to you?” Gail asked Winston.
“He sat us all down, the executive committee,” Winston replied, as Gail sat at her dining room table, with Shakir to her left, “and he said, fellows, I’m not long for this earth. The doctors have already told me. I don’t believe everything they say, but I’ve got to be realistic. And he said, I know what’s going on, but I’ve got too much work to do before I leave here. So he said, I want you to know I’m going out like a man, I’m going to go out standing up. And he did. That was just the way he was.”