As a student, being related to the quiet professorial rock star known more broadly in the University of Virginia community as Dr. Bice placed me in a unique position of receiving frequent requests for stories about this UVA legend. Knowing Ray to be a private, modest and humble individual was a catalyst for my own reservations in sharing details with fellow students—and now alumni—about my experiences in knowing him as simply “Raymee.”
Sadly, I have contemplated for some time how I might handle this day when it inevitably came, and as I place fingers to keyboard in the posthumous advent of a tribute to his life, I admittedly continue to search for the appropriate words to share. How does one communicate the stories of the consummate storyteller? How can I select just one interesting anecdote to encapsulate something that cannot be succinctly captured? How might one pay due respect to an individual who showed nothing but respect for others? Or share the life of someone who truly lived every day to the fullest? Or provide additional color on a character who could only be described as colorful?
How might I convey the regal treatment instinctively and effortlessly extended to every acquaintance by one quite familiar with being in the presence of royalty? Or ultimately honor a man who personified honor?
Perhaps what I might impart with my unique perspective garnered through my relationship with Ray as a professor, family member and quite simply—my friend—lies not in these questions, which have no answers. Maybe they lie instead in an approach to a problem that seems unsolvable, to tinker with what we didn’t realize needed tinkering or to shed light where there was darkness. To understand such an approach is to understand Ray’s way of thinking. Steve Jobs may have made it hip in today’s vernacular, but Mr. Jefferson and Ray Bice were way ahead of Jobs when it came to those who “think different.”
My earliest recollections of Ray originate back to days riding on the shoulders of my father, Ray’s cousin on his mother’s side, through the streets of Manhattan where we would attend the Christmas Spectacular of the Radio City Music Hall Rockettes. Ray and his recent bride, Zula Mae Baber, were forever doting on and spoiling me, which of course I didn’t mind, as I was the newest family member. I was born after, but in the same year of their marriage in 1966. Living in the tri-state area of the east coast placed the Sherlock family in close proximity to the Virginia Bice family, and as such we were fortunate to have had this geographic advantage to share visits in the short time that Ray and Zula Mae would have together.
I can’t clearly say whether it is my own fading memory or whether it is the vivid memory shared with me by Raymee repeatedly through the years, but I know that both he and Zula would get a kick out of encouraging me as a toddler to interact with the servers at restaurants to exclaim my desire for “Mountain Dew!” To this day, I think of Ray and Zula Mae’s prodding and joyful reaction whenever I drink Mountain Dew.
My parents have never been fans of pets, and when I was growing up I was consistent in my explicit desire to have a dog. Unfortunately for my parents, I was stubborn and was very determined in my resolve—which persisted through adulthood when I could finally make these decisions on my own. Always one to treat children with respect and concern—and accommodating and creative as ever—Raymee and Zula Mae would address children as their friends and never talk down to them. They loved to make wishes come true and were quite supportive of my childhood dream. At the risk of my parents’ disapproval, they decided to grant my persistent request by giving me my first “dog.” True to Ray’s fondness for gadgets and ability to find creative solutions through technology, this dog was not the kind that required potty training, regular walks or feeding. No, Ray knew how to address those parental objections by giving me a battery operated, barking and walking dog—a gift which I’m sure gave my parents pause as to whether the real thing might be a better option. In retrospect, maybe I should not find it so strange that those batteries seemed to rarely get replaced.
Our family eventually moved to Michigan and our visits with Raymee and Zula Mae became less frequent. It was during this period that we came to realize that Zula’s time with Raymee and our family would be sadly all too short.
While my recollections of Zula Mae are faint, those recollections were reinforced through my relationship with Ray. There was a strong continuing presence of Zula Mae throughout Ray’s life, recollection and stories. His eyes truly sparkled when sharing stories about Zula Mae with those around him. I feel that my time knowing Zula was all too short and I was too young to directly know her, but Ray’s artful storytelling and respect for her legacy was what made me feel as if I knew her well beyond the actual years we were on the earth together. He reinforced and maintained my memory of her, one of the sweetest individuals one should be fortunate enough to ever know.
During my junior high years in North Carolina, I began my own direct relationship with Raymee—visiting him on my first solo extended excursion from home. It was during this visit that Ray introduced me to this odd-looking, clunky and large piece of machinery that he called a “personal computer.”
Specifically, it was an Ohio Scientific “Challenger 4P.” Ray showed me how the machine could control normal household operations such as appliances, lighting, and audio/visual devices, as well as provide time and temperature, and simulate voice communication. It could also provide other utility functions such as a typewriter-alternative called “word processing” and also be used for entertainment purposes with advanced games like Pong and puzzles.
When I returned home to share my cutting-edge experiences and present my parents with the pre-recorded advertisement Ray and I created espousing the educational and utilitarian benefits of such a contraption for our household, they saw through what they considered “gadgetry hypnosis.” After patiently humoring my sales pitch, my parents assured me that such an expensive toy would not be in my future and did not appear useful for the over-zealous educational purposes I was evangelizing. Clearly my “Intellivision” would suit me just fine for games and we need not spend money on such a clunky contraption when a typewriter, calculator and a good game of Pong would suffice. Not to be deterred, and true to my stubborn nature, the following year I obtained my first job bussing tables at a restaurant so I could earn the money to buy my own electronic “toy”—an interesting new gadget I had heard a lot of buzz about called the Apple II from some new small company in Cupertino, Calif. With Ray credited as the inventor of the University’s first computer, and his perpetual advocacy for embracing the latest technology, I believe my early purchase of the Apple II signaled the bond that would forever exist between myself and Raymee.
In his later years, Ray’s sight and hearing were severely hindered, so in my final visit with Ray last year, I reminded him of that first visit to Charlottesville, placed my iPhone in his hand, and explained that the large clunky machines he introduced to me as a kid now fit in the palm of a hand and we carry them in our pockets. This got a big smile out of him and he remarked in his typical understated fashion when astounded, “Well, I’ll be. Isn’t that just wonderful?”
Through our shared gadget and tech affinities, it is probably no surprise that I selected the University of Virginia for my college years. That decision, however, wasn’t as straightforward as it would appear as it involved a last minute change of intent—pulling my tuition check out of the outgoing mail for Notre Dame and turning down other less costly local university options in North Carolina. I’m sure my father was hoping that one of those strong and more local institutions would appeal to my sensibilities and his budget. I set my sights on Charlottesville—a place that I would quickly learn to call home and will forever remain in my heart.
I arrived in Charlottesville and met my “randomly” selected roommate, who happened to originate from the town where my parents were intending to move next; after I graduated from high school, my parents moved to Dallas. To this day, I do not know if the roommate selection was truly random, if there was a simplistic algorithm that was designed to pair people from out of state or if Ray had a hand in some “magic” behind the scenes. First-year students were not allowed to have cars, so Ray offered me to park my old Ford Country Squire wood-paneled station wagon at his house. I’m sure that area of his former yard at 1720 King Mountain Road still cannot grow grass as a result of the persistent leak of my power steering fluid. That car remained at Ray’s house through most of my years at the University and made for many memorable adventures for my friends—who Ray was always quite anxious to meet.
Indeed, Ray would enjoy it when I would come over for laundry day bringing friends that also wanted to mooch some laundry time—really they simply wanted to meet the famous Dr. Bice. Ray was so embarrassed by the electronic and mechanical clutter in his basement where the laundry was located that I’m convinced he would get anxious and repeatedly reconfigure the clutter in anticipation of each visit.
Other frequent visits to the secret laboratory of the famous “Bice Devices” included assisting in preparation for Ray’s annual Halloween spectaculars, where he and his sister, Betty, would plan a traditional children’s story as a video and puppet show with an automated treat dispenser. These elaborate show plans were methodically formulated over an entire year and were consistently featured in the local press with eager trick-or-treaters visiting from across Albermarle county.
Frequently, suggestions from Ray to get together involved an ulterior plan to have me assist in moving and unpacking the latest and greatest audio/visual equipment purchase—which I was quite happy to do, despite the extremely heavy old cathode ray tubes of which he was so fond. Or I would simply join him for a “home-cooked meal,” which usually meant a trip to Morrison’s buffet, followed by an evening of watching “Bless Me Father” on PBS until Ray fell asleep in his chair. Whether arising for the day or falling asleep in his chair while watching PBS with friends, Ray was always impeccably dressed in his pressed button down shirt and tie, ever the true Virginia Gentleman in disposition, actions and attire.
Throughout Ray’s home were the ever-present touches of Zula Mae—the pink poodle decor guest bathroom and the formal living room that was rarely used. As the years went on, the signs of bachelorhood became increasingly prevalent throughout the house; there were gadget and electronic incursions into every room and the subsequent archiving and storage of last model electronics that couldn’t be parted with because they were still too recent and useful. Walking around the home, one would see other elements of Ray’s talents. He loved organ music and had a traditional foot pump organ in his dining room; it had to be delivered to the home through the removal of walls since it could not fit through the door.
Also evident was his interest in robotic toys and the loveable Muppets. In particular, Ray seemed to have an affinity for Miss Piggy and had a variety of Muppet and Piggy figurines and memorabilia. He also had magic tricks and mementos of his own practice as a magician inspired by his father’s stage illusion performances in Wisconsin. Ray Sr. was also a local legend and man of many talents himself as he was a state senator in Wisconsin, an accomplished author, an artist and a contractor. To observe his father’s illustrious career, one might remark at how intimidating it might have been for a child to follow in such large footsteps. Always one to think differently, Ray Jr. simply created his own big shoes rather than following the path of his father.
Ray was always there for me whenever I needed him during my years at UVA. He helped me navigate University life. I went to him for laundry visits or a “home-cooked meal.” He lent a familial ear when I needed a break from student life. These were the simple things that Ray isn’t as well known for, but will always remain etched into my memory like the monuments that adorn the Grounds. Always humble and never seeking gratitude, Ray was never one to boast of his efforts on your behalf, he simply was tirelessly working on behalf of others in every aspect of his life and never expected anything in return other than to see your happiness.
Ray definitely saw my happiness during my time at UVA. I made the most of it and very much enjoyed it. I spent five years on my undergraduate degree. Ray realized this experience was a common and natural part of the educational and maturation process. He seemed to anticipate and accept some of the lessons I would have to learn. Some were self-taught, and others taught by the University administration, which requested I take a much earned “sabbatical” from my academic pursuits. Where Ray could have been embarrassed that a relative of his faced such a dilemma, instead Ray seemed to have a keen appreciation for my extra-curricular pursuits as a key element of the education experience. He was supportive of my activities including engineering council, the Trigon Engineering Society (Ray frequently mentioned that the Trigons were a fantastic group) and my junior varsity —and eventual varsity role—as the Cavalier Mascot on the cheerleading squad. Ray seemed to always have an appreciation for extra-curricular activities as a part of a well-rounded University experience and encouraged such experiences through his continued interest and support—despite the impact on academic achievement—which was later course-corrected through my “academic sabbatical.”
Ray was ever-supportive and beamed with pride after my return to the University to achieve new academic heights, my continued extra-curricular involvement, and ultimately when I received the Outstanding Student Award for the 1990 graduating class of the Engineering School. Throughout the natural ups and downs of my UVA experience, Ray was there with my parents to support me in whatever way needed and maintained faith in me and my pursuits. Whether through the daily rituals of life or to lend affirmation during a period of doubt and difficulty, Ray was steadfast in his belief and pride, which only furthered my resolve to earn that pride.
I had the rare and fortunate experience of the Seven Society honoring me with thoughtful personal messages. One message was mysteriously delivered at a difficult time following my grandmother’s death. The other was similarly mysteriously delivered at a celebratory occasion on the eve of my hard-fought graduation from the University. The Sevens acknowledged my contributions to the University experience as the mascot, a member of student government and a Trigon as well as my residence on the Lawn and academic achievements. These messages were delivered in the middle of the night and slid under my Lawn room door.
It was difficult for Ray, as a “rock star” of the UVA community, to travel among the purple shadows of the Lawn without being noticed by someone and I would often hear about his presence there. I never shared with Ray that I had heard he was seen on Grounds on each of the two nights I received messages from the Sevens. I never shared the remarkable coincidence with anyone as after my years at the University and observations of Ray, I thought it would be improper of a Virginia Gentleman to make reference to such circumstantial events.
Among his many talents, Ray was known for his artful storytelling and presentation of difficult theories through visual demonstrations. You may have heard stories of the legendary sellout performances for the “Frank and Ray” shows, which were humorous, rarely heard stories and scandals from years gone by at the University presented by the legendary Frank Hereford and Ray Bice. The student body had a voracious appetite for anything that related to the history or traditions of the University, these shows always seemed too infrequent to satisfy demand. It could easily have had a standing engagement with sellout crowds. A veritable Forrest Gump in terms of the dignitaries and celebrities he encountered, Ray would often share stories of his reception with Queen Elizabeth II or celebrities such as Elizabeth Taylor.
You might also have heard Ray talk about the bold and conspicuous tactics students would use to gain admittance to his class. Or you might have heard the true lore of his famed match-making skills when he selected students for a demonstration in his lecture who subsequently began dating and eventually married; a “Bice Device” was the catalytic spark to their chemistry. Ray could be anywhere in the world, but predictably and inevitably one of his nearly 30,000 students would spot him and strike up a conversation. Even this past summer in a Barcelona coffee shop, I happened upon a UVA alumnus. As we reminisced, the subject of “Bice Psych” arose. My relationship to Ray conferred upon me transitive rock star status and my new friend paid for my beverage.
In his poem “The Honor Men,” James Hay Jr. aptly gives the essence of the Virginia Gentleman—of which Ray was a perfect example—much better than any reflections I might ultimately leave you with. Hay writes:
…If you live a long, long time, and hold honesty of conscience above honesty of purse:
And turn aside without ostentation to aid the weak;
And treasure ideals more than raw ambition;
And track no man to his undeserved hurt;
And pursue no woman to her tears;
And love the beauty of noble music and mist-veiled mountains and blossoming valleys and great monuments-
If you live a long time and, keeping the faith in all these things hour by hour, still see that the sun gilds your path with real gold and that the moon floats in dream silver;
Remembering the purple shadows of the lawn, the majesty of the colonnades, and the dream of your youth, you may say in reverence and thankfulness:
“I have worn the honors of Honor, I graduated from Virginia”
While Ray received his degrees from the University of Wisconsin, might I be the first to suggest that, like myself, Ray Bice has finally graduated from the University of Virginia. Only his UVA years lasted significantly longer than my own. He gave 60 years of contributions, dedication, love and loyalty to the the University and all it represents.
Ray’s passion for the University was pervasive, evident, and contagious in nature. In imparting but a portion of this love for the University with me, Ray also confided his passion for the University Chapel bells. This is the same chapel where he wed the love of his life, Zula Mae; and also the bells that toll whenever a member of the Sevens dies. For many years Ray was the only person who knew how to program the bells and make them chime. Through his many years of dedication to this responsibility, when I hear the bells of the University Chapel, I will forever think of them as “Bice’s Bells “—a tribute to Dr. Bice, the famed psychology professor, secretary to the Board of Visitors, University historian, inventor, entertainer and beloved family member.
Hopefully, through these “Rayflections,” I have provided a glimpse into a very human side of this University luminary and been able to share my pride in having worn a most special “honor of honors” to know Raymee as my professor, my family member and also my friend.
Dan Sherlock is an executive working in the media and entertainment industry on digital initiatives. Recent businesses he has run include incubator ventures for The Walt Disney Company and The New York Times. He lives in the Hollywood Hills area of Los Angeles.