WICHITA FALLS (KFDX/KJTL) — Family members of a beloved Wichita County pioneer hope to have his services set very soon after his death this week from COVID-19.
Four friends spoke about Ray Gonzalez along the same lines: There was just something special about him and he lived to serve others.
“When you’re going through your career you kinda do an evaluation of your life and Ray is one of those people that you always wanted to have in your life,” Michael Valverde said.
Ray Gonzalez was a go-to figure in Wichita Falls for decades.
“You knew there was something special about him, even in his younger days,” Bob Estrada said.
Before he served our country, then the city and county, childhood friend Bob Estrada says Ray just had “it.”
“If you saw a fast or neat car in the neighborhood, you knew it was Ray Gonzalez,” Estrada said.
It wasn’t long before Estrada and Gonzalez found themselves in Vietnam, as did Joel Jimenez.
“When he went to Vietnam and got terribly wounded, he comes back home and he doesn’t quit, he keeps serving. He keeps serving,” Jimenez said.
Gonzalez would return with a Purple Heart and then would meet a lifelong friend in Jimenez, who would become commander of Chapter 41 of the DAV. Continuing their friendship, and working relationship, helping veterans in major ways over years.
“He’s going to be missed, I’m going to miss him because we worked in other organizations to help others, and that’s all it is, it’s about the love he had for others,” Jimenez said.
The love Gonzalez had for others was evident. Not only serving two terms on Wichita Falls City Council, becoming the first Hispanic mayor pro tem, or becoming the first Hispanic Wichita County Commissioners in 2009, a position he held until 2016.
“You see Ray Gonzalez calling you on your cell phone, you pick it up and he just wants to say hi, how are you doing, how’re things going, how’s the city running, so it’s good. Ray was always one of those guys out there to help you,” city of Wichita Falls Mayor Stephen Santellana said.
“He knew that I was in Wichita Falls by myself, he knew that I was a first-generation attorney and he knew I needed those connections to get ahead and be successful,” Valverde said.
Valverde moved to town around 1992 from Vernon. He quickly became close friends with Gonzalez.
“You go to Market Street and you see someone Ray introduced you to, you go to the courthouse and you see someone he introduced you to, we never sat down and talked about that. He just knew this was the path to be successful, not only in Wichita Falls but in the United States,” Valverde said.
The same goes for Mayor Santelanna, who says growing up, his family recognized the good Gonzalez was doing for the Hispanic community.
“It kind of gives you hope, someone from the Hispanic community. You know it takes a lot to get elected, a lot of hard work, and then to go to commissioner’s court, which is even harder position to achieve. It gives, I think sometimes, young politicians hope,” Santellana said.
Whether it was through the DAV, the city, the county, or his Volkswagen and foreign car repair shop, the impact Ray Gonzalez made is undeniable.
“I don’t think until we go back and evaluate the impact he had on the Hispanic community, I don’t really think how much he did have an impact. There’s a lot of young Hispanics out there, a lot of young children, in general, that can look to Ray Gonzalez and know he’s a role model,” Valverde said.
“As a person, as a human, as a Christian, Ray was a great family man and a great friend to a lot of people in this community and that goes well beyond sitting here or at the commissioner’s bench. So, Ray’s legacy will be here for years and years to come,” Santellana said.
“He didn’t see color, he just saw red white and blue and he did. Great man and I’ll miss him,” Jimenez said.
Services are pending and will post that information once it becomes available