Ray Persons '78: Proving "If You Can Dream it, You Can Live it"
|Ray Persons (right) visits with a student during a recent visit to Moritz|
There were many in Ray Persons' Savannah neighborhood who doubted he would fulfill his dream of becoming a lawyer. Not among them was his mother who shared his dream and encouraged him.
"Our heroes were lawyers," says Ray, "Robert F. Kennedy, Thurgood Marshall - civil rights champions who advanced the cause of racial justice. Even after the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, lawsuits had to be brought in the South to breathe life into the legislation and force change. I wanted to become an engineer of that sort of change."
Encouraged by an aunt in Ohio, Ray traveled North to enroll in The Ohio State University. After a year, his money ran out. He returned to the South and graduated with honors from Armstrong University. Although admitted to several law schools, Ray chose Moritz Law where a Cleveland Bar Association scholarship helped underwrite his dream. With him every step of the way was his mother, whose letters of encouragement he keeps to this day.
In Columbus, adjunct Professor William E. Knepper would alter the course of Ray's life. Professor Knepper gave Ray a taste for litigation when he hired him to work at his firm Knepper, White, Arter & Hadden. Ray was inspired by Knepper, "I had never encountered anyone like him. He was a tireless worker, excellent courtroom lawyer, civic leader, and a scholar publishing six treatises, and numerous law review and trade publication articles." No less influential was Wendy, the undergrad he met on a blind date who would be come his wife, partner, and mother of their two children, Conrad and April.
Following graduation, Ray and Wendy relocated to Atlanta where Ray began his career. Today, he is a partner with King & Spalding LLP with a practice that focuses on complex litigation, including class actions and mass torts. He regularly appears before the state and federal courts and has been lead counsel in more than 50 trials.
Following Knepper's example of professionalism, Ray taught a litigation skills class on Saturdays for 10 years at the Georgia State University in Atlanta. "Professionalism," says Ray, "extends beyond civility to service – it's treating your profession as a 'calling.'" Among his many professional commitments is service as president of the Georgia Chapter of the American Board of Trial Advocates, chair of the State Bar of Georgia's Evidence Study Committee, member of the Atlanta Legal Aid Society Development Committee, and treasurer and member of the Board of Directors for the Atlanta Bar Association. At the request of the federal bench, he served as Chair of the Board of Directors of the Federal Defender Program for the Northern District of Georgia. In addition, he has written numerous articles and conducted lectures across the country on strategies for defending complex cases.
Like his mentor, Ray is a civic leader. A gubernatorial appointment led to his service on the Georgia State Election Board where he helped lead a $67 million initiative to implement electronic voting throughout the State. Ray is a trustee of the Armstrong Atlantic State University Foundation, on the Board of Directors for the Tommy Nobis Foundation, and active in the American Heart Association. Ray has worked with law students since 1992 in his role as master, Lamar Chapter of the American Inns of Court through Emory University. At the invitation of Dean Rogers, Ray recently returned to Moritz to share his experiences and advice with current students.
Wanting to do more for the Moritz College of Law, Ray and Wendy recently endowed a merit scholarship named in honor of their children, April and Conrad. It is designed to help Moritz attract students of high academic caliber with a drive to contribute to the profession. Ray and Wendy hope to contribute more to the scholarship over time. Their hope is that their children will be inspired by their example and continue to grow the scholarship through the next generation and possibly beyond.
Ray's advice to Moritz students is rooted in his past, as a dreamer who dared to dream big. "Never let anyone or anything deter you from pursing your dreams. In the final analysis, the only person who can keep you from fulfilling your potential is you." His life is testimony to his personal philosophy that if you can dream it, you can live it.