DES MOINES – With more than 1,000 archival boxes filled with papers of state business now processed and soon to be digitized, Iowans soon will be able to get a closer glimpse of behind-the-scenes decisions made by former Gov. Robert Ray during his 14 years as Iowa’s 38th chief executive.
The 84-year-old governor, his wife, Billie, two of his former lieutenants, ex-staff members and old friends and colleagues gathered at the State Historical Museum Tuesday to celebrate his public service and announce a new partnership that will allow public access to most of his official papers.
Under the arrangement, a significant portion of the papers processed by state historians and archivists will be on loan at the archives at Drake University, where Ray graduated in 1952 and received a law degree in 1954 before he was elected governor and served from Jan. 16, 1969, to Jan. 14, 1983.
During that time, Ray presided over the executive branch of state government, oversaw a significant Iowa resettlement of refugees from war-torn areas of southeast Asia, and served during the years of Presidents Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan during his five terms in office.
“I am pleased that a significant portion of the archived records of my administration will be on display and available to the public at Drake,” Ray said. “This initiative will strengthen the connections between the state and Drake, two entities that have played such important roles in my life.”
Speaking briefly with reporters, Ray said the information contained in the official records during his time as governor is important to all Iowans, “not to me alone.”
“It’s information that was put forth while I was governor. It belongs to everybody, not just the governor,” Ray said. He added that he hadn’t given much thought to what might be considered the most important to historians, saying “we’ll find out.”
Gov. Terry Branstad, who served as one of Ray’s lieutenant governors, said the digitization process will give Iowans an online opportunity to learn about a great man who served his state well. “He set an example of honest, open and clean government,” Branstad said.
Drake University President David Maxwell called Ray a “beloved” Iowan who was one of Drake’s most powerful symbols. He told Branstad, also a Drake Law School graduate, that he hoped a similar collaboration could be established with the Iowa Department of Cultural Affairs for his official papers at some future date.
Mary Cownie, director of the state Department of Cultural Affairs, said Ray’s papers include the workings of his office from 1969 to 1983, reflecting concerns of citizens, the public policy concerns of the Ray administration, and the administrative decisions adopted by the governor during that time period.
The Gov. Ray papers are a collection of more than 1,000 boxes and were the first administration collection that was comprehensively processed by the state archivists.