Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Neighbor Pays Special Tribute After Long-Time Neighbor's Passing

Long-time Laurelhurst resident, Jane Piehl, wrote an article,  "Neighborhoods and Neighbors," in  tribute to her neighbor, Jim Bray, who passed away last year, and also to his wife Ina Bray.

Joanne, a friend of Jane's told the Laurelhurst Blog Staff that the article" captures a rich period in Laurelhurst history, the 1970s and 1980s, when young professionals, often  UW faculty, from all over the country moved to the neighborhood, started their families, and set the tone for a highly cooperative neighborhood."

Ina Bray told the Laurelhurst Blog Staff:
Thank you for posting this incredible “walk” back to our young days. 
I’m grateful to Jane Piehl for remembering my husband Jim and for resurrecting this history of our neighborhood, a history that helped shape its character.   
She took me back to the early 1970s, the time of voluntary integration of Seattle schools.  Passions ran high, spilling beyond school walls and each community approached this change differently.   
It was because the commitment of parents, such as Jane and DeWayne Piehl, who provided wisdom, strength and energy that integration could at least start.  Oh, what memories….

Neighborhoods and Neighbors - by Jane Piehl

Jim Bray was a long time Laurelhurst neighbor. I would like to share a few stories of that neighborhood and of Jim’s part in that neighborhood.

We moved to Seattle in 1969 and bought a house in Laurelhurst, an easy commute to my husband’s new job as an Assistant Professor at the University of Washington Business School, We enrolled our 2 middle children in Laurelhurst Elementary School. Before I knew it, I was elected Treasurer of the PTA and met the new co-Presidents Ina and Jim Bray.

We were all horrified with the playgrounds at the school. There were 2: one for girls and one for boys. Both were covered with black macadam with only one piece of equipment, a bar for doing chin-ups.

Blessed with a new principal, we wanted better for the kids. Fundraising needed! We held a traditional Bake Sale and ended up selling everything to ourselves, raising very little money. The consensus was that Bake Sales are a terrible idea. Couldn’t we do something that will raise money and involve the kids?

Under Ina and Jim’s leadership we latched onto a new idea: sell used newspapers to the emerging market of recyclers. The kids could collect them from their neighbors, bring them to school with the help of their parents and sell them to a recycler who would pick them up with his truck, The recycler paid by the pound. Bingo! It was the perfect fundraiser-- -kids with their wagons, with support from their parents, and no more baking. We made a lot money for the playground.

We decided to celebrate with an Ice Cream Social at the end of the school year to be held on the
bare playground. Families came, with fathers often coming to school for the first time. Little brothers and sisters came, dreaming of the time when they could go to school. The kids were proud; the families were proud. What a great neighborhood celebration!

The playground got new equipment and mats under that equipment to cushion falls. This model of inclusion, gave the PTA new energy to supplement school programs like noontime activities from our parents who shared their different cultures.

A smaller neighborhood surrounded our house on 43rd Avenue NE. It went three blocks north, three blocks south and three blocks from east to west. The Brays lived in this general circle. The interesting thing about this neighborhood is that most of us had come from somewhere else. It was usually several thousand miles away from the mid-west, from the east coast and from California, and away from our families.

Jim, with his PhD in finance, had moved from California to take a job with Boeing as an economist. Unfortunately, this was just before the big Boeing downturn when thousands of workers were laid off, including Jim, and led to the billboard that said “Will the last person leaving town please turn off the lights”. The Brays decided to stay. Many on our street came because of the University of Washington. Very recently, the U had decided it wanted to be more than a northwest provincial university; it wanted to develop a national reputation.

For example, all of the full Professors in the department that hired my husband had their bachelor, master and PhD degrees from the University of Washington. They knew they needed some new ideas. I can think of at least 6 new PhDs came in as Assistant Professors at the same time as we did, maybe more. Several lived in our neighborhood.

So here we were: all about the same age, with children about the same age, far from our own families and friends. But we had each other. We loved to party. We drank Mint Julips together barely watching the Kentucky Derby. We made and ate apple pies together using apples grown in the neighborhood. At one New Year’s Eve midnight gathering, we watched the City Light electrical transformer up the hill burst into flame at the stroke of midnight.
There is a lot of oil in a transformer, and did it burn! We gathered our children dressed in bathrobes and slippers and witnessed a flame as high as an Olympic torch and heard the noise of that explosion and the arriving fire trucks. Later we found out that the George Jackson Brigade, a radical group in the 70s, triggered the explosion to make a statement.

In addition we had several yearly eight-family garage sales, organized by Ina, with lots of really good stuff and a simple accounting system to insure each family got paid for their stuff that sold. Other neighbors were leading Scout troops, or coaching newly sponsored girls athletics at the Playfield.

On a personal level, the neighborhood meant everything to me. My husband was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis shortly after we moved here. Within five years, the damaged nerves from his spinal cord prevented messages to get from the brain to his arms and legs. This meant his arms and legs were useless to him. From the neck up, he was his same old self but from the neck down was a quadriplegic. He was housebound, and became dependent on his family and neighbors for everything. The neighbors became very generous in including my children in their outings, including climbing trips up Mt. St. Helens, Mt Rainier and the Cascades; inclusion in their family vacations; and many small kindnesses.

Best of all, Jim and a couple of men in the neighborhood made many one on one visits to my
husband. During this time Jim Bray, decided to start a personal finance business out of his home. I heard nothing about the particulars from him, but I did hear from a couple of my neighbor friends of what a help he was to them. I also know that he intervened to save his neighbor tens of thousands of dollars from a so called friend who was about to “invest” that money into what turned out to be a scam.

Jim was only person from the Business School who maintained a professional relationship as well as a personnel relationship with my husband over 25 years.  Both of them had PhDs, Jim in Finance, my husband in Business Policy, both had taught Business Policy at the Business School, my husband during the day, Jim at night. Both had a love of small businesses.

The beautiful part of this relationship was that sometimes I would come home and he’d say Jim Bray came over to see me today. You see, Jim knew about our schedule and Jim knew where we a
hidden at back door for the children to use. He would come over, let himself in, talk for a while and let himself out. My husband never told me what they talked about but I can guess: the stock market, investments, what Alan Greenspan of the Fed would do next, etc. etc. Maybe they talked about family or the neighborhood. I never knew. This was his time to talk to a friend and a colleague.

One other memory I have is of the parties that the Brays had at their home. They had traded their first house for a very ordinary home two blocks up the hill. They took off the roof and added another whole floor on top. This new top floor had a treasured view of the tree tops and of Lake Washington as it entered the Montlake cut. This floor was their new living room, dining room and kitchen.

Ina and Jim invited us to a couple of parties at this house. When we arrived, Jim corralled several men to roll my husband up the stairs in his wheel chair. After a great evening with Ina’s Lithuanian friends, a few neighbors and other friends, Jim and his crew then controlled the speed of that wheelchair as it took off down those stairs. We went home full of good cheer and Lithuanian food, in awe of the Brays.

I have tried to describe Jim’s kindness, his quiet care for other people and his love of finance. It is no wonder that Jim was awarded a Community Award by Mayor Greg Nichols. This award was given once a year to honor people in the various Communities in Seattle who were making a difference in their Community. What a fitting tribute!

(photo courtesy of Bray family)

1 comment:

Colleen said...

I am so glad there is a place where I can express my gratitude to Jane Piehl for her wonderful tribute to Ina and Jim Bray. Memories flooded from the past, a joyous time as neighbors of the Piehls. It is a different world today but Laurelhurst remains a constant, thanks to such lovely people as the Piehls and the Brays. And just because I live on Bainbridge Island doesn't mean Laurelhurst is any less important.