Monday night, Nov. 23, the Hatteras Island community descended on a
beautifully decorated Hatteras Village Civic Center for a Masquerade
Ball benefit to both toast and raise up Ray Gray of Buxton.
Now if you don’t know Ray Gray, you should.
is a local legend around these parts. In addition to being a
world-class surfer, he was an avid volunteer fire department member and
a school teacher and principal at the Cape Hatteras Elementary School
for 30 years – more, if you count all the times he came back to lend a
hand after he “retired.”
helped out the community whenever possible, even taking money from his
own pocket and bank account to give to kids who needed field trip
money, game tickets, or even just new clothes.
a good person, and a humble person, and he always believes that someone
needs help more than he does,” says his fiancée, Paulette Boyden.
And this is exactly the reason why Hatteras Island is coming together to help Ray.
Jan. 7, Ray had a fall that changed the course of both his and
Paulette’s life. They had just arrived in Eleuthera, Bahamas, where
they were going to build their vacation shack, go surfing, (of course),
and also get married.
had set the date for Feb. 14,” says Paulette, “and I had brought my
wedding dress and my wedding money. I had no idea at that time that I
would have to use my wedding money on something else.
wanted the start of a new life and that’s exactly what I got,” she
says, but with an optimistic laugh. “It took 17 years to plan that day,
and I guess you have to watch what you plan for.”
fell in the middle of the night -- and in the middle of nowhere -- and
after doing CPR, Paulette and their surfer friends carried him from
their beach house to the car on a surfboard. From there, they went to
the island clinic, which opened for Ray, before he was then airlifted
to Nassau as the sun came up.
Paulette, who was sitting at the Nassau hospital with just her purse, bewilderedly filling out paperwork, was told he was dead.
was told he passed away on the plane, and I didn’t know what was going
on” she says. “Then they pulled the sheet over his head, and I was
But a miracle happened – the first of many – moments later.
world-famous brain surgeon from South Africa, who was vacationing in
the Bahamas, just happened to walk into the wrong door at the hospital.
staff grabbed him by the elbow and asked him to take a look at their
patient. He did, and said it was one of the worst cases he had ever
seen, but agreed to do the risky brain surgery.
Amazingly, the procedure that he performed was actually a procedure that he taught, specifically, at Johns Hopkins University.
the surgery, Ray was in a coma when Paulette came into the room to see
him. The doctor yelled at him to “Squeeze her hand really hard!” and
miraculously Ray did.
But there were plenty of battles still to come, and three days later, Ray had a stroke and went back into a coma.
the ensuing months, Ray was moved closer to his family in Greenville,
N.C. -- via another airlift with full medical staff -- underwent
massive physical therapy, and had a portion of his skull removed and
put in his abdomen, so it could be reattached at a later date. It was,
indeed, reattached, three months later, just days after Ray had finally
reached “outpatient status.”
“It was a slow process, because it’s a brain injury, and you have to re-learn everything,” says Paulette.
It took Ray two months to open his eyes and he also had to relearn how to swallow and then speak.
it wasn’t until August, more than eight months after his initial
injury, that Ray finally got to leave the hospital and come home to
But even though there’s years of work still to come, the progress is nothing short of astounding.
defying the odds left and right,” says Paulette. “He came home in a
wheelchair, and then he had a walker, and then a cane, and then we took
the cane away last week – I just have to be prepared in case he falls.”
“The doctors said he’d never walk again,” she says, “Of course, he said ‘I don’t have to walk as long as I can surf.’”
As Ray announced at the Masquerade Benefit last Monday Night, this is the next goal – to go surfing in April.
And the best news is that it’s completely doable – a realization that has excited everyone in the community.
joyful, island-wide response is understandable. After all, both Ray and
Paulette are amazing people. They’re both incredibly humble, and are
genuinely surprised by all the attention that’s been showered on them.
downplays her 24/7 job of taking care of Ray -- from helping him when
he wakes up, to getting licensed to help with water therapy for his
future surfing days, to literally cushioning his fall -- at every
opportunity, and with complete humility. “He’s the one who does all the
work, and I’m just helping when I can,” she says.
when Ray found out that there was a charity event being held in his
honor, he insisted that surely someone else on the island deserved it
more. “I told him ‘That’s your brain injury talking’,” Paulette
says with a laugh.
most people would agree that few people on Hatteras Island deserve a
show of appreciation more than Ray and Paulette, and the Masquerade
Ball was a perfect opportunity to show it.
Nelson from the Inn on Pamlico Sound and his staff provided plenty of
food, and silent auction and raffle donations poured in from every
corner of the island. Countless people showed up, donning their best
Mardi Gras-style masks, to say hello and shake Ray’s hand.
as for Ray? “Ray could not believe it. He had tears in his eyes the
whole time,” says Paulette. “And I am just enthralled on how it all
while there are obvious hurdles ahead, things are continually looking up,
and Paulette attests that it’s because of community support that Ray
has been raised so high.
is going well for a man they said would never wake up,” says Paulette.
“So many people have just stepped forward, and they have become my
angels, and they’re all island people. The island community saved his
life, and they’re continuing to do so.”
best thing that happens is if someone calls or visits,” she continues,
“and that part of the brain opens, and he remembers. He’ll always be a
brain injured person, but he’s coming back, and he always will.”
And Paulette wants everyone to know that their support, love and prayers have meant the world to both of them.
“I’ve saved every card, every text, every email – and I’ve read them all to him,” she says.
And with continued support, Ray’s progress shows no signs of slowing down.
hard on him. Imagine learning everything again, and this time when
you’re older,” says Paulette. “But once in a while he’ll have a long
conversation, and he’ll tell me what surfboard he rode in what country
in 1972,” she laughs. “So he has his good moments, and they’re getting
better every day.”
can help out Ray Gray by contributing to a fund set up in his name at
First South Bank at 47560 Highway 12 in Buxton or send a check, card,
or message directly to him at Ray Gray, P.O. Box 1361, Buxton, NC 27920.)