Stories Of A Man Who Looked At The Poor And Saw Himself

The Boston Globe – By Kevin Cullen

The rain was relentless, biblical almost, and you half-expected an ark to pull up outside Congregation Mishkan Tefila in Chestnut Hill. But there could have been an earthquake yesterday, and they still would have shown up, the people whose cars spilled out of the parking lot, all along Hammond Pond Parkway, the people who came to say goodbye to Ray Tye.

Minutes before the memorial service began, a bag lady was outside the synagogue, and she was cursing and smoking and demanding to know what was going on. There was a cop, in his dress uniform doing his best to keep her from making a scene. If Ray Tye were alive, he would have taken the bag lady aside, given her a kind word, slipped her 20 bucks, and sent her off with a “God bless.” Inside Rabbi Jonina Pritzker was saying, “Ray was one of the tzadikim, the righteous,” and, boy, did she get that right.

Ray made his money in the liquor business. He made his soul in the empathy business. He looked at poor people and saw himself. He was especially drawn to kids. He looked at children who died before they should have and paid for their funerals. He spent whatever it took so other kids wouldn’t die of disease or war or something that adults did to them.

Ray’s granddaughter, Molly O’Brien, got up on the bima and she asked everyone to close their eyes and remember their favorite Ray Tye story. So I closed my eyes, and this is what I remembered: A few years ago, we were sitting in his office in Braintree where a portrait of Richard Cardinal Cushing dominated the wall. I asked Ray why, and he said he admired Cushing because Cushing loved the poor, because Cushing loved the disabled, because Cushing loved ordinary people. “I loved Richard like a brother,” Ray Tye said, and then he told me this story:

One day, about 50 years ago, the Cardinal called him on the phone. “Raymond,” Cushing began, “I’d like you to be the head of Catholic Charities.” Ray Tye paused, a bit confused, and replied, “But, Richard, I’m Jewish.” This time it was Cushing’s turn to pause. But then the gravelly response came and Cushing boomed, “What the hell has that got to do with it?”

A half-century later, I was at home when my phone rang. It was Ray Tye. A 12-year-old Iraqi boy named Rakan had been orphaned and badly wounded when US troops mistook his family’s car for a suicide bomber’s. Ray had paid for Rakan’s care at Massachusetts General Hospital and Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital, but Rakan wanted to go back to Iraq and Ray didn’t want him to. I had spent a lot of time with Rakan, as had my wife and kids, and I was going to write a series about Rakan’s story.

“I’d like you to adopt Rakan,” Ray said. I was floored.
“Ray,” I replied, “I can’t do that.
“Why not,” Ray asked.
“Ray,” I said, “I’m Catholic. Rakan is Muslim.”

And Ray Tye, channeling his old pal Cardinal Cushing, bellowed, “What the hell has that got to do with it?” When Ray Tye looked at people, he didn’t see what color they were or where they said their prayers; he saw what they needed.

Please CONSIDER MAKING A DONATION to the Ray Tye Medical Aid Foundation to help us continue our work.

One Response to “Stories Of A Man Who Looked At The Poor And Saw Himself”

  1. I really like reading through an article that can make people think.
    Also, many thanks for permitting me to comment!

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