Ray Charles Easley was a leader all his life, even as a kid, says his wife Patricia.
After his father died, Mr. Easley, who was known as Chuck, stepped in as the man of the house, even though he wasn't the oldest child.
"In fact he was the middle child, but his mother said Ray was the one child that helped her," said Patricia, who's known Mr. Easley since they were children.
Mr. Easley, she recalled, even missed his eighth-grade luncheon in order to babysit his brothers and sisters. "Even in high school nothing changed; this notion of being responsible and never complaining. He just took it all on his shoulders."
Mr. Easley, who was born and raised in Chicago, continued that leadership into adulthood, including as a long-time community activist with the Westside Branch NAACP. Mr. Easley, 55, died on July 25, leaving behind his wife of 30 years and children Ta Ron, Patrick and Patricia. He served as first vice president of the Westside Branch.
Vera Davis, the organization's chair and former president, recalled that his greatest contribution was his commitment to people.
"He was just a person who was there for everybody, a person dedicated to helping people," she said. "He was witty, and that's what helped him to serve with patience. He would never let a person feel bad."
Mr. Easley also chaired the branch's labor and industry committee.
"And that was where he truly belonged; because he really went out of his way to make sure the people on the West Side knew where the jobs were," Davis said. "He held classes for people to provide them with the basic skills…sitting there and working with them; helping them to fill out an application, and working with them on the computer for hours."
Karl Brinson, the branch's current president, grew up with Mr. Easley and worked with him in the NAACP. A "legitimate public servant, family man and human being," is how Brinson described his friend.
"Ray was such a dynamic person with a high level of commitment," Brinson said. "When Ray was committed, he gave his all to it. If he took on a project, he stayed with it. Ray was always consistent. He was passionate about his family and his community people."
Born Sept. 11, 1957, Ray Charles Easley was the fifth of eight kids born to Goldie and T. Willie Easley. He was named after Goldie's favorite singer, Ray Charles. Mr. Easley was a lifelong West Sider. He attended Skinner Elementary School and Hess Upper junior high, where he would meet his future wife. In high school, the two became sweethearts, and in 1982 they were married.
Easley studied history at Northern Illinois University, where he was also a member of the Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity. In addition to family, friends and community, Mr. Easley loved sports and played them religiously.
"If he could play basketball everyday, he would," Patricia said.
Baseball and ice hockey were his other favorite sports as a child. Mr. Easley was also an avid golfer.
A member of Jordan Temple Missionary Baptist Church, Mr. Easley once served as human resources director for the Village of Maywood, and worked with the Westside Ministers' Coalition, Westside Health Authority and Northwest Austin Council. He also chaired the board of Circle Family Health Care Network. And, according to his wife, he loved to cook, especially for the homeless and less-fortunate in the community.
"This started when he was in high school because he had to cook every day," Patricia said. "His mother worked the second shift and Ray would go to school, come home; he'd get the money that she left for dinner, go to the grocery store, figure out what to feed them, then he would come home and cook it. He made sure they were fed [and] had their homework done.
"He made sure the house was clean before his mother came home, and then at 10:30, every night, he would have to go to Cicero and Lake Street and wait on her at the El stop, and he would come home and get up in the morning and start all over again," Patricia said.
Professionally, Mr. Easley, his wife recalled, started a landscaping business meant to help people find work.
"He said it was not for him, but for guys to have something to do," she said. "Ray was really passionate about the whole notion of job-readiness for all people…He helped hundreds.
"At [his] funeral," she added, "people came up and said 'Ray helped me get this job. He did my resume for me. He taught me how to tie a tie.' Ray was truly one of the good ones."