Ray White lives life with passion. He loves the Outer Banks like no place on earth and has helped shape our region’s growth and culture as it has morphed from quiet fishing villages to today’s tourist mecca. When Eddie Greene noted that the Outer Banks was one of the most generous and giving places he’d known, he most likely had his good friend and mentor Ray White in mind.
Ray grew up in Manns Harbor when ferry service connected Roanoke Island to mainland Dare and modern conveniences were few. His father built a store and ice plant before working as a merchant, Dare County Commissioner, and regional Representative in the NC General Assembly. His mother raised their three boys and ran the family’s market at the ferry dock. When they weren’t studying or doing chores, Ray and his brothers were outside.
Growing up in the 1950s and 60s, it doesn’t get much better than exploring, fishing, and hunting in the great outdoors. The boys built a camp on Durant Island to fuel their passions. Dad helped, and hardly a weekend passed when they weren’t out on the water, on the edge of the Alligator River with the long expanse of waterway at their feet. These formative years instilled a sense of place and being that shaped Ray’s life.
Ray graduated from East Carolina University in 1967 and returned home to a job as a teller at Planters Bank. Banks merged, times changed, and Ray rose to become President of the newly-formed OBX Bank. He helped dozens of local businesses get their start, and was known to be level-headed and pragmatic, but also considerate and generous with his time and advice.
“Ray has always been the most level-headed and conservative of the three boys,” recalled his brother Stan. “When the three of us took ownership of the family store, Wade and I had to beat up on Ray to get him to spend money on anything,” he said with a laugh.
Ray jumped into leadership opportunities that came out of a booming Outer Banks, serving on several government and nonprofit boards. In 1982 David Stick approached Ray about joining a newly-formed Community Foundation Board of Directors. David’s enthusiasm was infectious; the new board soon found themselves rolling up their sleeves and building from scratch. Soon resources were growing, new funds for special causes were created, and grants and scholarships to help children succeed and to support a growing number of nonprofits were on a steady roll.
“I’m so honored that I was picked to be one of the founders who got this started,” Ray said. He served on the Community Foundation board three different times over nearly 40 years, for more than 16 years of service.
The last 40 years have seen rapid growth in Dare County, and that has fueled the growth of many local charities. “Lots of the people were moving here in their retirement years,” said Ray. “They felt this was their place, and so they were willing to help it grow in the right direction.” Ray and his colleagues on the board saw this as a way to garner needed support; they got the word out and invited everyone to ‘put something back.’
Ray was serving on the board in 2005 and saw how a few large bequests transformed the Community Foundation’s operating, grant, and scholarship assets. The Board established the David Stick Legacy Society as a way to honor their visionary leader and to encourage people who were passionate about the Outer Banks to give generously for future charitable purposes through bequest gifts. The potential benefit to the community would be significant since gifts by bequest are typically much larger than lifetime gifts. But change didn’t happen overnight.
“It was a long, tedious amount of work before we were able to get people’s attention,” Ray recalled. He was one of those early board members who made their Legacy intentions known. Other board members joined the ranks, and community members followed.
The major legacy gifts made in those early years were invested, and today they support a hefty portion of all grants and scholarships made.
In November 2022, Ray was honored to receive the NC Order of the Long Leaf Pine award by Bob Woodard, Dare County Board of Commissioners Chairman, on behalf of Governor Cooper. Ray’s 50 years of service on the ABC Board of Directors and his work with the Community Foundation and other charities were noted. “He has inspired generations of his neighbors,” said Chairman Woodard. “Respected by all who know him, he is admired for his calm demeanor, his level-headed thinking, and his kind and giving spirit.”
“More than any other individual,” wrote Community Foundation CEO Chris Sawin, “Ray has been the bridge that has connected generations of Outer Banks philanthropists.”
“It makes my heart want to explode when I see all the wonderful benefits that have accrued from this little Foundation,” said Ray. “Out of all I’ve done in 50 years, it has been the closest to my heart, and the most meaningful.”