Ray never had eyes for anyone but Rose. So it's no surprise that when I visited him at the nursing home back in July, he told me that his one final wish in life was to return home to his books and his Rose. When he closed his eyes for the last time, he wanted to be next to his two loves. He even prayed for it.
His prayer was answered. When I spoke to Rose on the phone, she said: "Ray loved his books so much. He had books three-deep. I worried that the shelves would collapse."
We both laughed. It was a light moment on a sad day. Good old Ray still makes us smile.
I asked her to tell me what she remembered about Ray's final moments. Rose is losing her memory. It happens. But she seemed sharp when she told me this.
Ray had just recently come home from the nursing home. A special hospital-type bed was set up for him in his private library. That's where he spent his final days, surrounded by his literary friends.
"What was the last thing he said to you?" I asked.
"I asked him if he wanted to eat. He said 'yes.' I gave him a cookie. Then he kissed me. I turned around. Next thing I knew, he was dead."
We both cried. Rose reminds me of the flower she's named after — beautiful yet strong. She wanted me to know he didn't suffer. "Say a prayer for him," she said. "They are burying him tomorrow."
That was Oct. 10. I was on Hilton Head Island in South Carolina. I'd come here with family for the long holiday weekend to unwind, read and write. One of the books I brought with me is Tennyson's "Idylls of the King," in which he describes the ideal knight:
Who reverenced his conscience as his king;
Whose glory was, redressing human wrong;
Who spake no slander, no, nor listen'd to it;
Who loved one only and who clave to her.
Ray Brown was an ideal knight.
Jeff Benedict is the author of "Poisoned: The True Story of the Deadly E. Coli Outbreak That Changed the Way Americans Eat."
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