I was observing the Oak Park Village Board meetings for the League of Women Voters of OP-RF when I first "met" Ray Johnson. Village board meetings those days were particularly contentious.
Pending before the board, whose president was Joanne Trapani, was the application for WhiteCo, now better known as the "Trader Joe's building." Sites and residences near the proposed development had ominous "No Tower" signs erected or in their windows. The lines were long at village hall as residents opposed to the development stood up to testify before the board.
On the night I really "met" Ray Johnson, a resident or two in opposition to the development called for his and President Trapani's resignation. I found that hurtful and offensive, and when the meeting ended at 1 a.m., I invited Ray over for wine and my only staple, popcorn. We talked for at least an hour before adjourning — it was a work night for both of us.
That began an over 10-year friendship but more than that, a give and take with Ray over issues that faced our village. I was already engaged in transportation issues as an active cyclist, and Ray supported those efforts, including the Wright Ride, which is now in its eighth year (sans me).
It is important for me to say this because this is the essence of Ray Johnson. He had vision — he knew what would make our community better, more walk-able, more bike-able, more sustainable, more attractive. He was an early adopter of many other important initiatives that make Oak Park the proud community that it is.
Ray and I have been through a lot — the loss of my best friend in Oak Park to a tragic train accident; his appendicitis; my cancer; his layoff from the banking side of HSBC. But we have persevered through our arguments over the living wage, pension reform, and various other issues where we threw indelicate words at each other.
But mostly, we laughed and canvassed — and canvassed and canvassed — and spent our dollars in Oak Park. He was serious about that. I'm proud to say we are friends. I will miss him.
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