Raymond Lester Peck, a Montana educator, counselor and longtime Democratic legislator and activist, died surrounded by family and friends Friday, May 27, 2011, at St. Peter's Hospital after a massive stroke. He was 84.
Ray was born June 23, 1926, in Whitefish to Pearl McBride and Asa Peck, one of 14 children.
After high school, he served in the Army Air Force during World War II as a tail gunner.
Ray began his career as an elementary teacher in Gildford before becoming a teacher and coach in Harlem on the Fort Belknap Reservation. He coached Harlem to a state championship in six-man football in 1951. He stayed in touch with the members of that team all his life, and more than 60 years later, they still called him Coach.
He later worked as a teacher/coach/superintendent in Hingham and Big Sandy; a part-time counselor in the office of the dean of the College of Professional Schools Office at Montana State University; associate professor of education and psychology at Northern Montana College; and assistant superintendent, director of special education and of federal programs at Havre Public Schools.
Ray married Ilse Sonnek in 1947 in West Germany and they had six children: Pete, Carla, Pep, Gregory, Raymond and Cynthia Rae Peck. They later divorced after 27 years of marriage.
In 1975, Ray married Betty (Collins) Peck and gained another family in Betty's children, Holly, Carley, Darla and Kelly.
Betty inspired Ray's second career as a legislator, and he was devoted to her until her death in 2002.
Ray represented Havre in the Montana House of Representatives from 1983 to 2001, where he was known as a knowledgeable and ferocious advocate for K-12 public education. He was elected House minority leader in 1995 and was the recipient of numerous local, state and national awards.
After Betty's death, Ray became friends with Annabelle Richards; Annabelle was Ray's partner and constant companion until his death.
After leaving office, he stayed very active in politics. He worked as a resource person to the Democratic Caucus in the Montana Senate, lobbied to abolish the death penalty in Montana, and provided counseling and support to combat veterans in the Vet2Vet program at Fort Harrison until his death. He volunteered at the Montana Democratic Party offices the day of his stroke.
Ray was a master bridge player. He enjoyed walking, reading, having coffee with his friends every morning, giving his dogs Tuffy and Boo treats, politicking and visiting with his grandkids.
Survivors include his partner, Annabelle Richards; children, Pete (Sheryl) Peck, Carla Johnson (Denny Lammerding), and Pep (Wally) Jewell; stepchildren, Holly (Stan) Kaleczyc, Carley "Tack" (Alex) Tomaskie, Darla (Doug) Kaercher, Kelly (Lisa) Darlington; sisters, Helen Haugan of Florida, Jacie Ressler of Texas, Tom (Delores) Peck of Columbia Falls; 23 grandchildren, Courtney Peck, Trevor (Alex) Peck, Danyelle (Ryan) Dotson, Nikki (Justin Pyper) Golden, Jayci (Bryan Beckman) Johnson; Kaylee Johnson, Jeremy (Angie) Jewell, Greg Jewell, Jenny (Joe Menden) Kaleczyc; Andy (Lisa) Kaleczyc; John (Emily) Kaleczyc, Karl (Shawna) Jarvis, Jane (Shane) Moe, Nicole (Jon Washburn) Tomaskie, Michelle and Kevin Tomaskie, Kate Kaercher, Mary Kaercher, Anna Kaercher, Jacie Darlington, Justin Darlington, Shelbi Darlington and Jesse Darlington; great-grandchildren, Dyllan, Landyn, Riley Dotson; Burke Jewell, Austin Jarvis, Annie and Will Menden, Elle and Jack Kaleczyc, Maya Smith and Auden Moe, Anya Murphy, Emme and Job Washburn, Carrie and Ryan Fredricksen, Kaylie and Shane Tomaskie.
Other survivors include Kent (Linda) Richards; Brent Richards and Shannel and Jillian Pocha; Lisa Rusk and Griffin and Rachel; Tuffy and Boo, who miss Grandpa's treats already; Democrats and veterans.
He was preceded in death by son Gregory Charles Peck; Raymond Anthony Peck and Cynthia Rae Peck; son-in-law Daryl Johnson; five sisters and five brothers with two siblings in 2011.
Ray lived his life with courage, conviction and deeply held beliefs that education and social and economic justice would level the playing field and create opportunity for all.
Memorials in Ray's name are suggested to: The Montana Democratic Party, Box 802, Helena, MT, 59624; Vet2Vet Program, P.O. Box 1500, Fort Harrison, MT 59636; Lewis and Clark Humane Society, P.O. Box 4455, Helena, MT 59604; or Poor Clares of Montana, 3020 Eighth Ave. South, Great Falls, MT 59405.
Burial with military honors alongside his wife Betty and son Greg took place June 7, 2011, at Big Sandy Cemetery.