Remembering Ray

Ray SimoneRay Simone, my good friend and long-time business partner, died this morning. He was 63 years old. He is survived by his wife Gillian, his daughter Christina, and many good friends for whom he remains an inspiration and a delight.

Ray was one of the most creative people I have ever known. Though we originally shared the Creative Director title at our agency, Hodskins Simone & Searls, Ray was the Main Man. While I was a good copywriter, Ray could do it all: come up with killer campaigns, clever headlines, great design and art, tight scripts, whatever. His knowledge of art, of typography, of technologies and sciences — actually, pretty much everything — was encyclopedic. He worked his ass off, and he was great to work with as well.

We met in the mid-’70s in Durham, North Carolina, when I was still “Doctor Dave,” an occasional comic radio character for WDBS and columnist for the station’s magazine (see the visual below), and Ray was an artist whose own comic work appeared in the same publication. We both circulated in the same low-rent Hippie creative-art-music-dance-weekend-party crowd surrounding Duke University. Ray was working with Hodskins Simone and Searls 1978David Hodskins and some other folks at small “multiple media” shop (decades ahead of its time) that had somehow spun out of the Duke Media Center. One day, when I called up Ray to talk about collaborating on an ad for an audio shop I was working for part-time, Ray put me on hold and told David that Doctor Dave was on the line. David told Ray to arrange a lunch. A team was born over that lunch, and in 1978 we became an advertising agency: Hodskins Simone & Searls. The photo on the right dates from that time.

By 1980 we were specializing in high tech clients up and down the East Coast, and after several years decided to open a satellite office in Silicon Valley.

After winning some major West Coast

Hillbilly Jazzaccounts we moved the whole agency to Palo Alto, and by the early 90s HS&S was one of the top shops there. (Huge props to David Hodskins for his leadership through all that. David was the agency President and another truly brilliant dude.)

Twenty years after its founding,  HS&S was acquired. By then I had moved on to other work, and after awhile so had David and Ray. While I went back to journalism, Ray went back to art, teaching at Ocean Shore School in Pacifica, as well as at Brighton Preschool, which he and Gillian, his wife and soulmate, ran in the same town. He was Sting Ray to the kids there. Says Gillian, “He made story time come alive.”

He also went back to painting. But his full portfolio of accomplishments includes much, much more. For example, Ray designed covers for dozens of major country and bluegrass albums, mostly for Sugar Hill Records. Two samples, one for Vassar Clements and the other for the Red Clay Ramblers, are on the left and right. Here is a partial discography (drawn from here and other places), in alphabetical order:

Ray was a musician as well. When he was a student at what is now Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond, he played keyboards in a band that traveled to gigs in a used hearse. Some of the stories he told about those days were beyond wild and very funny.

Ray also designed countless t-shirts and posters, most of which were worthy of collection. Panel from Ray Simone Hassle House poster(Wish I still had some, but alas.) Old friends from Durham will fondly remember the Forklift Festival at the late Plantation (an run-down mansion on North Roxboro that should have been preserved). Forklift was a play on the Folklife Festival (now Festival for the Eno) that took place across the road. Ray also helped the Good Time Boogie, an annual gathering in Eastern North Carolina for which there was huge attendance, pass-the-hat funding and no publicity beyond Ray’s brilliant t-shirt art.

Ray’s cartoon poster for a place called Hassle House, done in the style of MAD’s Will Elder by way of Vaughn Bodé, was the first thing that turned me on to Ray. It was funny as hell, and I can still remember every panel of it. (Rob Gringle provides more background in a comment below, and also reminds us that Ray did many covers for The Guide, the monthly published by WDBS. I still have a stack of Guides somewhere.)

[Later…] Big thanks to Jay Cunningham for providing scans to the poster. That’s one panel, there on the right.

Ray was a born athlete, though he never exploited his talents beyond casually (but never maliciously) humiliating anybody who took him on at ping-pong, darts, softball or whatever. I remember one softball game where he grabbed a hard grounder bare-handed at third base, and — while falling down — threw out the runner at first base. All in one move. Like it was no big deal. It was awesome.

He took up fencing when we were still in North Carolina, and quickly won trophies.

A student of fun history, he was active for years in the Society for Creative Anachronism. In that capacity he once served “stargazy pie” at Monkeytop, the rambling Victorian urban commune where he, David Hodskins and many others lived at various times on Swift Street. (It’s now the restored E.K. Powe House.)

When Ray and Gillian (also an artist) were married at a California ranch in 1991, everybody was costumed as cowboys and cowgirls. That was huge fun too.

A devoted reader of science fiction and watcher of movies, Ray could expound with insight and authority on either subject, plus too many others to list.

Yet what matters most is that Ray was a loving guy and a first-rate friend. Back at the turn of the ’90s, when I had sworn off dating after a series of failed relationships, Ray pulled me out of my shell. As a direct result I’ve now been happily married for more than twenty years, with a wonderful teenage son. I know Ray had similar influences on others as well.

I could add much more (such as a backstory on my nickname, which Ray illustrated with the character on the right),docdave but I want to post this today. I’m sure other old friends will weigh in as well. Additions and corrections of course are welcome. Here are a few I failed to string among the pearls above:

      • His full name: Raymond George Simone. Most of his album credits are for Raymond Simone.
      • Simone is pronounced with three syllables and a long e:—Simonē: the correct Italian way, Ray said.
      • He was born in Potsdam, New York, and grew up in High Point, North Carolina.
      • He had one brother, Jim, who died of throat cancer many years ago. Ray’s malady was lung cancer, no doubt an effect, as with Jim, of smoking. Ray quit many years ago, but it still caught up with him.
      • His mother, born and raised in Oklahoma, was (as I recall) half Cherokee. Both his parents passed in recent years.
      • He sometimes called himself The Weasel (others shortened that to “The Weez”), and drew himself in cartoons as a weasel with a mustache. For most of the early years we worked together, Ray’s signature look was long hair and a mustache, sometimes waxed at the tips.
      • He learned and worked in deep-sea diving out of San Clemente, California.
      • He was into cars and motorcycles, in various ways at various times. Among other feats he once rode alone across Canada on the biggest ride Honda made.
      • Here is Ray’s Facebook page, with a self-portrait from when he was more full-bodied, a couple years back.

The photo at the top of this post is cropped from this one, shot by Gillian last Friday when David and I came to visit Ray at their home. Ray knew he didn’t have much time left, but was still in good humor. That was the day after Thanksgiving. So I’m thankful that I was in town and that these three old partners could get together one last time.

37 responses to “Remembering Ray”

  1. Dear Doc,

    My condolences to you on your loss of a true friend. I hope the friendship and love of those in Ray’s circle can bring each of you a measure of peace in this difficult and sad time.

    My best good thoughts,
    Joel Norvell

  2. Doc,
    A touching tribute to someone whose life clearly meant so much to you. “Passing” seems such an appropriate word when we recall with love the friendships we have been given rubbing shoulders with others as our lives stream by. Thank you for this.


  3. Your tribute touched my heart. Thank you for sharing.

  4. Gillian sent your post to the parents of her students. What a wonderful man he was. Unfortunately, I only had the opportunity to meet him soon after he was diagnosed with cancer. I did happen to see his happy eyes in passing when I would lead my son to a yoga observation. I knew he had cancer and was cautious to ask how he was doing….for the sake of privacy and the fear of bad news. Thank you for writing such a lovely tribute to him. I now feel like I know him, rather than knowing he was Gillian’s husband who has cancer. As an educator and parent, I can imagine his creative presence touching the lives around him.

  5. I’m sorry for your loss.

    When someone you love becomes a memory, the memory becomes a treasure.


  6. Tremendously sad to hear of Ray’s passing. Have not heard from him in years but think of him often. Kept up with him infrequently through the MonkeyTop folks. I will always remember the times spent working at RELCV, making math comic books, doing what might have been the first Carolina Comicom and just enjoying creative lunacy.

    Thank you for the tribute to this larger than life guy.

    Ray was a “one-of” and his moving on will leave a big hole in the world. Good bye, Ray.


  7. Thank you, Doc. Although I didn’t know Ray well, I had the honor of working with him, years ago, on the Internet Team of the Human Awareness Institute ( where we both did volunteer work. I came to know him as a bright, creative, tender, man with a playful spirit and a loving heart.

  8. Thanks for this touching tribute, Dave. I will share the news of Ray’s passing with (old) friends here in Durham and carry memories with me always. It is quite fitting that you and David could visit with him together. Thanks again for sharing in such a loving manner.

  9. Doc, what a wonderful tribute to Ray – I smiled as I read it – remembering my own Ray stories of his many adventures. A true creative spirit!

  10. Thanks, everybody. Fun to see how many communities Ray occupied in his too-short life. Do spread the word, too.

  11. Sharon Franquemont Avatar
    Sharon Franquemont

    David, what a wonderful tribute to Ray. Thank you for catching me up on what Mr. Creative/Wild Thinker was up to these past years. Tears fill my eyes as I fondly remember our years with Intuition Men’s Group and Ray/Your enrichment of my life. So grateful you brought Ray into my life. Fantastic tribute photo of you 3.

  12. Thank you so much for this heartfelt tribute. I have not seen Ray for a long time, and I had no idea of the extent of his creativity! I’m sure Gillian and Christina will appreciate this wonderful remembrance.

  13. i’m sitting on the outer banks of nc, recalling a weekend on ocracoke island with ray, lee hawley, and my not-yet wife. 3 days that became the source of several classic carolina legends. ray, who hadn’t ever really fished, put us to shame by catching his first (only) red drum of 10# or so. i believe he must still hold a world’s record for #caught/minutes fished. we didn’t have the heart to tell him it’s not as easy as it looked to him. fish on, ray.

    1. Hey, Kim.

      Ray was blessed in so many ways. I sometimes thought he didn’t know how talented he was, even at stuff he’d never done before. Say hi to Lee and other friends in Ray’s old NC crowds.

  14. Doc, among your many gifts, the two I value most are your talent for friendships and family ties and your skill and energy in celebrating them in your blog. I never knew Ray, but I am deeply satisfied that such persons exist. Thanks for this…

  15. Thanks for the tribute to Ray. I remember the the volleyball games at Monkey Top, another of Ray’s athletic accomplishments, his involvement with the Society for Creative Anachronism, his energy, creativity and his incredible smile and laugh. Though I have not seen Ray in many years, I too have thought of him often and will miss him.

  16. Thanks for this Doc. I keep reading this again…and again. What a man. What a creative life for Ray. Fascinating. Ray will be missed.

  17. Great remembrance, Doc. I knew Ray both from our old Durham days, where he was the local graphics genius who created our classic WDBS bluebird logo, and much later here in Nor Cal where I got to know him again as my HAI intern. Funny to think back about the contrasts–in NC he was that skinny guy with the stylishly-waxed mustache, and at HAI he had become a love-bear. Without your photo of him from the early days of HS&S, I wouldn’t have remembered that wonderful earlier image of him. Wonderful photo of the three of you from a week ago, all looking great notwithstanding Ray’s proximity to his next journey. Thanks for being there for him, and for sharing his story with us.

  18. I didnt know Ray – but I saw him ‘around’ at parties and whatnot in Durham. I still have all of my old t-shirts that he illustrated and designed. Chili Wars, Forklift Festival maybe, and others. Works of art. I realize he evolved far beyond that after leaving NC, but I still do appreciate these illustrations.

  19. Doc,

    Wonderfully heartfelt remembrance of & for Ray.

    I too first encountered Ray & his work via the Hassle House poster. At that time, I worked in the drug abuse field, mostly on the state level, & Hassle House was the Durham city & county crisis intervention & counseling center, providing around the clock phone and walk-in services with funding primarily from federal, state, & local drug abuse prevention/education/treatment sources. There was much talk & considerable concern in those times about helping agencies ability to reach the youth & counterculture target populations that had developed a strong sense of street paranoia, preventing them from seeking/receiving help when they needed it – especially, say, in illicit drug use, ODs & habitual use situations & for sex issues, including unplanned pregnancy, STIs, & gay/lesbian concerns.

    Ray’s task was to write & illustrate a single poster that would address all this, & engender trust among the target populations in contacting the trained volunteer & professional staff of Hassle House for help. All approval decisions for Hassle House were made with democratic input from the volunteer counselors & the three professional staff coordinators (one of whom, Erica the clinical director, was later to become my wife). I remember the staff meeting when Ray’s final draft was lauded & approved of for what it was: a superior work of visual & verbal art utilizing wit, humor, & a warm sense of the foibles of people in crisis to convey the real world resources available for seeking & receiving help. Ray’s response was, & I quote: “Aw shucks”, delivered with a downward glance & lopsided grin.

    Speaking of modesty, the readers of your blog in general & the remembrances of Ray in particular should know that your humor column and Ray’s futuristic satiric cartoon serial that ran for nearly a decade in the monthly magazine you mentioned were its most popular features, and were the envy of all the other area media, none of whom ever came close to matching the excellence of your respective work. As the editor & publisher of the magazine under the auspices of WDBS Inc. I could be accused of some bias, but I’m certain all of Ray’s old friends who have responded to your blog would verify this assessment.

    Ray also designed & rendered a substantial number of the magazine’s covers, & they look as vibrant & arresting today as when they were first printed. Given the details of Ray’s passing there is considerable poignancy in my last contact with him. Helen Whiting, a colleague & friend of you & Ray, & also a monthly columnist for our magazine and the influential weekly newspaper The Independent, passed in her prime from a brain tumor. Several of us who had worked in publishing with Helen, including David Birkhead, Georgann Eubanks, & Kathy Stanford compiled & edited Helen’s columns on food, life, & recipes into the book “In Helen’s Kitchen”, published by Helen’s business partners Tom Campbell and John Valentine at Durham’s Regulator Bookshop. I contacted Ray about doing the cover for Helen’s book, & he provided a stunning color design featuring Helen in her kitchen smoothing out a rainbow with a rolling pin: a visual combination of whimsy & symbolic relevance so typical of Ray’s special brand of graphic brilliance.

    But enough. Doc, I want to close with a few words to Ray’s beloved Gillian & Christina. I regret we never met when Ray was with us, although I can tell you he wrote of you in proud detail during our last correspondence. Your loss is surely more profound in its entirety than any of us can know. What so many of us do share is the degree to which we were fortunate enough to have been touched by Ray & his brilliance. None of us will experience his like again. May he live on in your loving memories.

  20. Steve, BJ, David, Lorrie, Susan, Tom, Kim, Melinda, Sharon… thanks for such terrific recollections of Ray.

    And Rob, thanks especially for such a detailed and caring response. Please pass along greetings and hugs to all the other old friends you mention as well.

    I thought of Helen often as Ray went through his illness. She was brilliant and funny and beautiful. We had a lot of fun working together, as well as partying and dining. (Helen was a great host too, in that little house of hers behind Sunnyside, the commune/mansion next to Monkeytop.)

    I should add, for other readers here, that Rob, in addition to his many other skills and accomplishments, was a great disc jockey on WDBS. His musical sets were works of art in themselves, as well as delightful and challenging explorations for his listeners.

    Thanks again, everybody.

  21. Dave, Rob et al.: I too was sad to read about Ray’s passing. He was indeed an extraordinary creative talent. I still see his work every day — we have his poster for the old WDBS “Daily Concert” classical show on the wall in our living room. RIP, Ray.

  22. Hi, Cabell. Thanks for weighing in. Do you, or Rob, have an original (or close enough) copy of the WDBS “bluebird” logo? I’d like to use it here and/or in the Wikipedia entry, which is still very weak (it’s just a section of WXDU.

  23. Dave, this is a multidimensional man who I knew in only one dimension. I guess I never got to know him beyond the jester/artist character he played so well. Thanks for the rest of the man that I assumed was there but never got to know. Sad….

  24. Thanks, Hutch. Great to hear from you.

    Ray, like many of us (me included), led several lives, in series, with some overlap. As Steve Tulsky said above, Ray was both the skinny artist with the long hair and the waxed mustache and the “love bear” (plus more) that he also became here in California. Reading through all these wonderful comments, I find myself regretting, on behalf of all of us who moved to the other edge of the country, not staying in better touch with old friends in North Carolina. The love is still there, but the contact hasn’t been.

    And then, life is short. As one approaches the end of life’s stick, that fact becomes clearer and less of a cliché than ever. As that awareness dawns, we start living for other reasons: loving the ones we’re with, giving time to kids and grandkids, going about the work of leaving the world better than we found it. Would have been great if Ray could have done more of that. He certainly had lots left to give.

  25. Dave — Thanks again for this fond remembrance of Ray. I don’t have much stuff from ‘DBS days, but I’ll be glad to scour the closet to see if I can find a bluebird logo for you, either on a bumper sticker or some other some other promotional item. Which reminds me, I was driving to the dump in Chapel Hill one Saturday morning about a year ago and spotted a van with that same classic bumper sticker. I U-turned and followed the van for 15 minutes but eventually lost it. Encounters like this are becoming increasing rare as the years roll by….

  26. Much as with Cabell, my DBS stuff is thin; however, a yr. or so ago Joe Liles asked me if I had one of those old bumper stickers designed by Ray. Joe is also a graphic artist & educator who literally created art education at NCSSM. (A residential state-supported HS for junior & senior students in the state gifted with science/math proclivities) Joe used to always play DBS in his art classes while his students were working on their drawing/painting, etc. projects. He firmly believed that helping to develop his students’ musical horizons was as important as anything he could teach them about visual art.

    Cabell’s midday musical offering show (perhaps the most successful commercial classical music program in the US outside of, say, the top five population markets) was a class favorite. Cabell, by the way, was one of the finest radio production, announcing, & music set-building talents to work at WDBS, & was instrumental in creating some of the most sublime radio heard anywhere — & I mean anywhere, any time.

    Where was I? Oh yes – Joe Liles & DBS bumper stickers. A yr. or so ago Joe asked if I had one of those bird bumper stickers. He had just re-painted his late 70s vintage pickup truck a close approximation of the blue featured in Ray’s bluebird from the bumper sticker design, & Joe thought that logo on the back of his truck would not only be the perfect finishing touch for his truck, but also serve as a coup d grace message understood as such by at least some other aging drivers in the Triangle, perhaps eliciting responses much like Cabell’s van episode.
    I found exactly one of those bumper stickers, & I gave it to Joe. As far as I know, it’s still on his truck. Although a photo of Joe’s bumper may not offer the bird logo in very much of its original glory, I’ll see about taking a picture & emailing it to you, David. Maybe I’ll do it this afternoon; Joe, after all, lives just down the street from us – a neighbor for all those intervening yrs. from when WDBS was in full flower, not to mention strong voice.

  27. There will be a celebration of Ray Simone’s life Jan. 15th Sunday 1:00 at the Pedro Point Fire House 1227 Danmann in Pacifica. All are invited. Please rsvp so we know how many people might attend.

    Those who wish say a few words about Ray are welcome. In lieu of flowers, there will be a silent auction of all Ray’s drawings and paintings. Ray’s main wish in life was to sell his drawings. We would like to thank these people for their help through difficult times: Dr. B. Wilson, Victoria & Jay Gangi, Viv Smith, Sherry Murphy, Elizabeth Paul, Lina Sana, Ann Rutherdale, Jenna Gilman, Bobby Cobb, Letty Allan, Patty Stone, Carol Christine, Marci & Lance Amato, Emmaline Matthews, Richard Matthews, Rhona Kalbacoff, Gwen Holden, Jacce Grubb, Linda Tringanli, Danile Hicks, Linda O Brian, Brad Woehl, Lupe & Arthur Kesel, Nina Walters, Colleen Smith, Tiffany Woods, Jessica Hage, Kim Jones, Renate & Keith Wong, Jackie Rosenheim, Michele & George Yatrakis, Tim Caughman, Stephanie Colombo, Sean Chatman, Suzanne Wheeler, Kathleen & Jimmy Bruno, Gayle One Vering, Nicole Zindars, Emilly Roberts , Petra, PMC presidents, Vira Ricarde, Mary Franco, Averil Brody, Chip August, Doc Searls, Henry Joe Peterson, David Hodskins, Janet Dale, David Hard Castle, Eric & Carolyn Laggerlof, Barbara Christine, Fran Wright, Lisa Green, Greg Toland and many more.

    Love Gillian Simone

  28. Thanks, everyone, for writing so movingly of Ray. I read all of this while coincidentally wearing my prized “In by Noon, Out by June” Bull City Sound tee-shirt, one of Ray’s best. His Grateful Dead poster of a dancing Duke Chapel is another collector’s item I wish I had.

    Aside from all the great times we shared at Monkeytop, I’ll always appreciate Ray’s thoughtful musical recommendations for Red Herring (“I Got a Gal from Kalamazoo” being the most successful) and his great logo (Statue of Liberty holding a trout) and brochure design, featuring “What’s that smell like fish? Oh, baby!”, a perfect attribution for RH. We plastered that poster all over Europe in 1977 and often had to come up with snappy explanations of its true meaning.

    You’re right, Dave, Ray knew massive amounts about just about everything. It never ceased to amaze me. I always felt privileged just to sit and listen to him expound and I’m crushed I’ll never have the chance again. I’m sorry now we didn’t stay in touch and wish I could be there for the memorial.

    Anyone in Durham want to meet for a simultaneous remembrance on this coast?

  29. Hi, Billy. Thanks for joining in, and for the Red Herring recollections. Fun to see all these scattered pieces coming together.

    Having a simultaneous remembrance in North Carolina would be terrific. Let’s talk about how to do that.

    Meanwhile, if anybody has some photos or scans of Ray’s art, please either post them somewhere where I can gather them, or send them to me so I can put them up myself somewhere. It would be great if we could get a bunch of stuff together before January 15th.

    My email is doc at searls dot com or dsearls at cyber dot law dot harvard dot edu.

  30. I found out last night from Vic Lucas about Ray’s passing. Ray was a fascinating guy and though we were not terribly close friends we shared an interest in music and he was always encouraging. I’ve kept my copy of the Hassle House poster and pulled it out today to remember how great it was! It’s a bit yellowed but I could scan it if it’s not already out there somewhere. Thanks for the memories.

    1. Thanks, Jay.

      I haven’t seen anybody else come up with a Hassle House poster, so if you could scan it, that would be way cool. I also see nothing wrong with putting it up on the Web somewhere. You could do that, or send me the file(s) and I could do it.

      And, if we have simultaneous memorial gatherings in NC and CA, maybe you (or somebody) could bring the poster, old t-shirts and other artifacts.

      [Later…] Thank you for passing along the whole scan. I’ll put it up shortly.

  31. I started working with Ray right after I left graduate school at Duke to pursue a life in music. We were all just kids making our way into the world and Ray helped make my entry fun and exciting as hell. When I started Sugar Hill Records in 1978, I wanted a label that would stand for something, to have an identity, much like Sun Records of the 50’s where you might not know a particular artist but you would trust the musical sense of the label. In my case it was contemporary music with traditional roots. Ray converted that philosophy into a visual presence, one which included our logo and virtually all of our initial LP releases. While I may have been responsible for the sound of Sugar Hill, Ray was the creative force behind how we were seen. Those were special times with a very special man.
    Barry Poss

  32. Arlene (Peanuts) Perry Avatar
    Arlene (Peanuts) Perry

    Today I just decided to google Ray and these images popped up and I knew right away which one to click on – but was totally shocked to see your tribute. I knew Ray back in the day of the local Richmond band that traveled in the hears (I was one of the band managers). It was nice that you mentioned that time in his life. Sounds like Ray made a wonderful success of his life,I wish that I had been able to stay in touch with him. Many blessings to you and to his family.

  33. Thanks, Peanuts. Glad to hear from people who knew Ray back then. What was the name of the band, by the way?

  34. We sprinkled the ashes yesterday in the ocean out past Golden Gate bridge. Our friend took Chris and I out on a Zodiac! Wow was that fun. I started sailing when I was 17. But I have never bounced on top of the waves in a Zodiac, it was so exciting and so much fun!

    Ray is out driving in the ocean with the fish. The thing he loved do most. He can travel any place he wants.


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