by Patrick McLaughlin
Ray Gendron, recognized by most who were familiar with him as the face and voice of BICSI Cares, passed away on February 18 after a lengthy battle with cancer. Ray leaves a wife, three children, and five grandchildren.
He also leaves behind him on this earth literally thousands of people, most of them very young, whose lives were made better by Gendron’s generous and selfless efforts. The story goes that the founding of BICSI Cares was an impromptu happening, when Ray literally passed a hat down a row of seated attendees at a BICSI conference sometime in the late 1970s. When the hat came back filled with cash, Ray decided to give the money to a local children’s charity. So was born the tradition of BICSI adopting a local charity, always one benefiting children, in the city in which it was hosting a conference.
Anyone who has attended a BICSI conference has been asked, nudged, harassed, cajoled, and/or guilted -most often by Ray himself-into donating money to the local charity. The first time I saw Ray in action, I walked away convinced that 90 percent of his conversations consisted of three words: “For the kids.” That phrase was omnipresent whenever he was around, its purpose to remind everybody of the ultimate beneficiaries for whom Ray was working.
For those of you who have not attended a BICSI conference, the format has been the same as long as I have been paying attention. The charitable contribution is made on a Thursday morning, one of the last pieces of official conference business. From what I can tell, every moment of every day leading up to that time, Ray was working somebody to donate money to the cause. And if they had already donated, he’d encourage them to donate again. Dig a little deeper, he’d say. “For the kids.”
At each conference, Wednesday is BICSI’s Regional Lunch day. Attendees from each of the association’s geographic regions are invited to dine with other attendees from that same region. It’s an opportunity to do some social networking, and the region director conducts a good-and-welfare meeting of what’s going on locally. For Ray Gendron, these lunches represented fish in a barrel. He’d make about a five-minute visit to each of them, his voice raspy and sometimes barely audible because of how fervently he had been fundraising to that point. Ray would talk about the specific charity that would receive the donation and, of course, encourage everybody to do what they could to help.
But something else Ray did at these region luncheons struck me years ago, and has stayed with me since. He would state that another region had issued a challenge, claiming that it could collectively donate more money to BICSI Cares than the region he was currently addressing. The thing was, everybody in the room knew that no such challenge had been issued. Who knows how many times Ray told that made-up story? Each region lunch, times three conferences per year, times however many years he was at it. He put forth a lot of those made-up challenges. But if one of them-just one over those years-inspired one person’s competitive spirit and ultimately resulted in more help for a group of children in need, then Ray accomplished his goal.
While everyone knew who Ray Gendron was, he couldn’t personally know every one of the few thousand people gathered at a conference. But many times, I saw him glance at a person’s name badge and politely-yet-energetically call them by name. That’s what he did with me, and he never failed to make my experience at a BICSI conference a better one for having spent a little time with him. Likewise, the money raised for charities, thanks in such a large part to Ray’s efforts, made life a little better for so many others he also didn’t know personally. “For the kids.”
It’s sobering to realize that some of the children who directly benefited from BICSI Cares’ fundraising efforts preceded Ray Gendron in departing from this earthly life. My faith and optimism tell me, however, that Ray was warmly received into their eternal company.