Dignitaries and ordinary Iowans came to the statehouse Thursday to honor Gov. Robert Ray, who died this week at the age of 89.
He lay in state in the statehouse rotunda until 8:30 p.m., the first official to do so for the past 64 years.
In a solemn ceremony, Ray’s granddaughters, members of Iowa’s Asian community and Gov. Kim Reynolds each placed a wreath near the flag-draped coffin before the crowd was allowed to file past.
Governor Ray held the state’s highest office from 1969 to 1983. For 51 year old Robin Clemons of Marshalltown, Ray was “always the governor” throughout her childhood.
“I went to the State Fair a few times as a kid and seeing him a few times and actually got to meet him once,” Clemons said. “I just thought he was the nicest man.”
Don Stanley is an Assistant Attorney General, a Democrat, but as a young man, he worked as a Republican on one of Ray’s campaigns.
“He seemed to be able to work across the aisle to get things done,” Stanley said.
A large contingent of Iowa’s Asian community filled one wing of the rotunda and led the mourners filing past the coffin.
Somkong Vong was eight years old when her family fled Southeast Asia and was welcomed to Iowa by Gov. Ray.
“I feel we need to pay respect to him,” Vong said. “If it weren’t for him we would not have the chance to have the freedom and just pursue our dreams.”
Vong was in the first group of Tai Dam who came to America in 1975. Som Baccam was also in that group, arriving in Iowa at the age of 11.
“I owe my life to him,” Baccam said.
The wreath borne by the Asian community included the words, “Our beloved hero, our Ray of freedom.”
The body of the former governor was transported to the rotunda by a contingent of Iowa guard members and state troopers following a motorcade through the city of Des Moines.
Govs. Branstad, Culver, and Vilsack will be in attendance at the funeral Friday.