CREATIVE HEROES: Raymond Strother

24 03 2016

Ray and my sweetie’s friendship goes back decades. While he was down from his Montana mountains and in Louisiana, I grabbed him for a conversation for my Creative Heroes series. A creative hero is someone who lives a fully creative life and Ray teaches us all how to do that. Ray believes that creativity is about seeing the world differently and breaking the rules to create something unique.

ray art

Ray has lived a big life. He’s gotten the powerful elected. He’s a renowned author. He’s piloted planes. He’s taught at Harvard and is an esteemed professor at the small Louisiana university that kicked him out when he was a student for his political views. He is still married to his high school sweetheart and together they have traveled the world. Their home houses a stunning, eclectic art collection from their life together. His musical tastes go from opera to rap. He is a master woodcrafter and can bake a damn good loaf of bread. He is a true renaissance man.

It took breaking the rules for Ray to break out of the life he was born in the blue collar, oil refinery town of Port Arthur, Texas where neither parent graduated from high school. As a young adult he learned to embrace a new direction when faced with a roadblock. After it was “suggested” by the small town university president that he transfer to the more “liberal” LSU in Baton Rouge, Ray packed up his new bride and moved. Having lost his track scholarship in the process, he knew he could write and became a Journalism major. The seeds of his professional life had been planted.

His life proves that all things one learns are useful. A student job of sorting the printing letterforms gave him an understanding of typography, which evolved into an understanding of design. A teacher taught him the basics of photography and he created a studio in the unused attic of LSU’s journalism building. These learned skills would eventually lead him into writing and directing commercials when he entered the political advertising world.

His understanding of living a working class life drove his life mission of trying to make the world a better place. From Ray’s Wikipedia page, “My father taught me that you had to stand on the picket line … and you had to get involved in politics — because people like us had no other choice. So I became a political consultant. It was a calling like the ministry.”

Knowing himself well enough to know that his personality was not suited to being a politician, he used his creative skill set to help people he believed in get elected. It was Ray’s fearlessness, insatiable curiosity and hard work ethic that propelled him on his own creative journey that eventually led him to being a top political consultant based in Washington DC, the most powerful city in the world.

Creativity is the spark of God
Ray does not believe creativity ever grows out of a committee decision. His creativity grows out of solitude. He isolated himself to write his novels. He fell in love with the rugged majesty of Montana while working on a political campaign there. The locals thought he was crazy when he bought the vertical slope of a mountain. Thinking differently allowed him to create a mountain retreat built on that impossibly steep slope, which he named Heroes Ranch.

Hero's

Hero’s Ranch, the Strother’s Montana mountain retreat

Wise Chair

His decades of experience have turned him into a sought after professor. The university that once kicked him out now has an honored chair for him. It’s called the Wise Chair. Ray believes creativity grows most intensely when youth and passion are combined.

“Creativity is the spark of God,” Ray said. What a blessing that a few teachers saw that spark in Ray’s early life. Today he see’s that spark in his students. He is still helping change the world by turning those sparks into creative fire. He is a creative hero.

Click here to watch an extended video conversation with Ray.

Ray video

Click here to read other CREATIVE HEROES stories

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My Daughter’s Graduation Gift

12 05 2014

Dearest Daughter,

Mother’s Day and your college graduation are just a few days apart, which has me reflecting on our mother/daughter bond. You and this huge milestone are gifts that make me extremely proud. It makes me think of gifts from your heritage. You are only the second generation from my family to graduate from college. You may remember the closure that ended each mother/daughter class that we took at the Unitarian Church when you were a young girl. “I am Connie Lee, daughter of Jimmie Dee, daughter of Jimmie Corrine, daughter of Minnie Mae; mother of Jade Lee-Mei.” You have inherited a beautiful legacy of mother/daughter connection.

Mothers and daughters, our maternal lineage

Mothers and daughters, our maternal lineage

I am grateful that your Nana has been such a part of your life. You already know that you have feisty, quirky, and funny DNA coursing through your veins. I have sweet memories of my Maw Maw. I remember being rocked by her on their front porch and her singing the lullaby “Hush Little Baby”. And I’ve heard similar sweet memories from Nana of her grandmother, Minnie Mae. It’s important for you to know that you come from a heritage of love.

That legacy includes the wonderful Dads in your lineage too. Even if your memories of your grandfather are vague, you’ve been raised with stories about him and your great grandfather too. If you ever wonder what your great grandfather was like, look no further than your Uncle Dudley. The warmth, love of family, wicked sense of humor, and even his looks were inherited from his dad, your great grandfather.

When you were little, you loved to look in my jewelry box and ask me if the jewelry was going to be yours someday. For your graduation gift I am giving you a piece of jewelry that is part of your heritage. It is yours; to keep, or wear, or sell, or save to pass on to a daughter you may have someday. It is the ring my grandfather gave me when I graduated from LSU.

The gift in the box that my held my mother's engagement ring.

Your ring in the box that  held your grandmother’s engagement ring.

You know this ring as my engagement ring. Because this ring meant so much to me, your Dad added the diamonds and we made it the ring that would represent our marriage. Your Dad and I may not be married anymore, but you do know that our love for you has never faltered. We have always believed in your abilities and your dreams. You were born to parents who planned for you and who wanted you, when we were young, happy and in love. That’s what this ring represents and it is now yours.

I am proud of the woman you’ve become. Congratulations on your college graduation milestone. Your adult life is just beginning. During the ups and downs of where your life will take you, always know that you come from a circle of love.

Love, Mom