Nashville attorney Charles "Charlie" Ray passed away yesterday after suffering a heart attack while traveling to Kentucky. He was 65.
A graduate of Vanderbilt University School of Law, which he entered after working for several years as a baggage handler for American Airlines, Ray began his career in criminal law but also established a reputation as a civil litigator in employment law cases. According to Chip Frensley, his partner in the firm of Ray & Frensley downtown, Ray won one of the first age discrimination cases -- if not the very first -- in Middle Tennessee.
He often represented plaintiffs in such cases, but having been a law school classmate of Corrections Corp. of America co-founder Tom Beasley, Ray took on a number of labor-relations cases for the Nashville-based private-prison operator. In the highest-profile engagement, he represented CCA in Richardson v. McKnight, a case involving the legal immunity of the company's prison guards that reached the U.S. Supreme Court in 1997. Ray argued the company's case before the high court, which eventually handed down a 5-4 decision in favor of CCA's opponents.
Ray was lead attorney in a 2000 lawsuit against Vanderbilt University involving nine members of the Vandy women's track, field, and cross country team who charged the university with Title IX discrimination. Title IX, a component of the Education Amendments of 1972, prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex in any educational program receiving federal funding. The case was eventually settled.
Local attorneys polled by NashvillePost.com for a 2003 feature on the city's "best lawyers" cited Ray as one of the best criminal defense attorneys in town. One anonymous colleague called him a defender of "crimes in the streets, as opposed to crimes in the suites," while another termed Ray an "excellent defense lawyer."
Perhaps a higher distinction was what the late Federal Judge L. Clure Morton told a young colleague shortly before he died in 1998. Morton was a famously crusty curmudgeon; attorneys tended to approach his courtroom with some trepidation. But he called Ray the best lawyer who had ever practiced before him, and he said if he ever needed an attorney himself, Ray is the man he would call.
Ray took a sabbatical and moved to Ireland for a year and a half in the late 1990s. He retired from full-time practice at the end of 2004.
Longtime friend Bryan Lewis, an attorney with Barrett, Johnston & Parsley, told NashvillePost.com that he had spoken with Ray just yesterday morning. "I was supposed to have lunch with him, but he called to ask for a rain check so that he could go visit a friend at a nursing home in Kentucky. He was really a great guy and will be sorely missed."
Lewis said Ray had asked him yesterday to pick up some cash that he could retrieve after his trip to Kentucky. "We had a business deal together, and he said that he had been in the hospital recently and hadn't had a chance to get to the bank," Lewis explained.
"Well, I am going to slip that walking around money into his pocket at the funeral home. I want to fulfill that request."
Ray is survived by his wife Sandra, daughters Shannon Lumpkin and Lauren Arrigo, and three grandchildren.
Funeral arrangements are pending at the time of publication of this article, but Marshall, Donnelly and Combs Funeral Home will handle them.
UPDATE 1:00 pm
Visitation for Ray will be from 4-8 p.m. tomorrow at the Marshall, Donnelly and Combs Funeral Home. A service will be held at 10 a.m. on Saturday at the funeral home followed by an internment ceremony in Franklin, Ky. on Saturday at the Greenlawn Cemetery.
In accordance with the wishes of Ray, his last mile will be on a horse-drawn carriage which will be led by a Dixieland Jazz band.