W. Ray Partain, one of the best friends I have ever known, died suddenly after a massive heart attack in December.
Ray became a very successful businessman after he “retired” from his regular job. When he started his income tax and bookkeeping business around 40 years ago, he dedicated his business to Christ. Throughout the years, he has shown me again and again what a true friend is.
Baltasar Gracian said, “To find one real friend in a lifetime is good fortune; to keep him is a blessing.” Ray was a real friend, a committed Christian, and a benevolent servant. He tithed for almost all of his working life. He was the greatest encourager I have ever known. He never failed to call me on my birthday. He is the only person who has ever done our income taxes. He and his wife, Nancy, drove a long distance to attend graduation services when I received my doctor of ministry degree.
I spoke at his funeral, wearing a bow tie in his memory. Ray started wearing bow ties many years ago, which became part of his visible identity. But he was so much more.
When he was a boy, he had a problem with stuttering. At least once a week, he would go to the country store in his community, where grown men gathered to gossip each day. They delighted at hearing Ray stutter, and they laughed and ridiculed him for it. But, like most everything else in his life, Ray overcame his stuttering and became a public speaker — teaching Sunday school, serving as a Gideon and being a toastmaster.
He cared about people and would often help those in need with money, food or other gifts.
During my first pastorate, he was a deacon. I remember the day his 17-year-old son was killed in an automobile accident. Ray was at the Georgia Baptist Assembly attending a music conference when he was contacted to come home. The house was filled with people when he arrived. Immediately upon receiving the news of his firstborn’s passing, he asked me and another pastor to come to the bedroom with him and Nancy to pray. Ray prayed, asking God for help and for strength to be a good witness, while thanking Him for being God.
During the visitation at the funeral home, many people came. One lady approached Ray with the intention to provide comfort until she broke down in tears in front of him. He took a handkerchief from his pocket, gave it to her with a hug and assured her that everything was going to be okay. He was a powerful witness during that painful time in his life.
A couple of years after his son’s death, Ray and I went to the prison in Columbia to visit a young man. On our return, a highway patrolman pulled me over for speeding. He asked me to come back to his car, and we talked. When he told me he was only going to give me a warning ticket, I was relieved, but I felt I should share the plan of salvation with him. The trooper turned off his radio, bowed his head and prayed to receive Christ. When I returned to my car, I discovered that Ray had adjusted the rearview mirror to see what was transpiring and was praying the whole time. “I knew you were going to witness to him,” he said, “so I started praying.”
There are so many stories and memories of my dear friend that I will cherish. He is in heaven today, and I grieve, but his impact on my life will live on. In 2015, I wrote a little book called “You Can Live Until You Die,” in which I related the stories of several people who did not give up on life until their last breath. Ray was one of the people I interviewed. When I asked him about retirement, he said, “Retirement is not in my future.” At the time of his death, he was in a new office, still doing bookkeeping and income tax returns, but also working to expand his business by obtaining his insurance license.
He was a blessed man and a blessing to many others. He once told me, “I can get emotional talking about how the Lord has blessed me.”
W. Ray Partain was 79, and he truly lived until he died. Proverbs 18:24 says, “A man of many friends comes to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.”
Someone has noted that real friends are the siblings we never had. Ray, then, was my brother. While I will dearly miss him, I am so glad for the friendship God gave us.
An Irish proverb says, “A good friend is like a four-leaf clover — hard to find and lucky to have.” Amen, and amen.