The following eulogy was delivered at the memorial service honoring Ray Anderson, held today in Atlanta, and reprinted with permission.
We, who were so fortunate to know Ray Anderson, were in awe. He was many people: a father, executive, colleague, brother, speaker, writer, leader, pioneer. But I am not sure any of us quite figured him out. On the outside, Ray was deceptively traditional, very quiet sometimes, an everyman, all-American, down-home. He was so normal that he could say just about anything and get away with it because people didn’t quite believe what they heard. He could walk into an audience and leave listeners transfixed by a tenderness and introspection they never expected or met. Business audiences in particular had no defenses because they had no framework for Ray.
Was he really a businessman? Yes. Was he a conservative southern gentleman with that very refined Georgia drawl. Yes. Was he successful? For sure.
Well, then where did these radical statements come from? Ironically, because people could not connect the dots, he was extraordinarily credible. He was also courageous. He stood up again and again in front of big audiences and told them that pretty much everything they knew, learned, and were doing was destroying the earth. He meant every word he spoke and those words landed deeply in the hearts and minds of the hundreds of thousands of people he addressed. There was no one remotely like him, nor will there ever be.
People called Ray a dreamer. To be sure, he was, but he was also an engineer. He had definitely seen the mountain, but he also dreamed in balance sheets, thermodynamics, and resource flow theory. He dreamed a world yet to come because dreams of a livable future are not coming from our politicians, bankers, and the media. For Ray, reimagining the world was a responsibility, something owed to our children’s children, a gift to a future that is begging for selflessness and vision.
Proverbs reminds us that though all good people die, goodness does not perish. The metaphorical spear in his chest was not an injury but an awakening that led Ray to give talks all over the world and in so doing he became a great teacher. He used business as a means to educate and transform, but his life was not about money or carpets. Ray’s life was about the sacred. His covenant was with God; the marketplace is where he labored. He gently laid down that spear this Monday morning but his teachings are a lineage that will live for centuries to come.
To we who remain, Ray’s passing is startling, a summons, maybe even a provocation. Before we die, may we know that to be alive is astounding, inconceivably precious, a privilege beyond reckoning. When we know and cherish this existence, the rest of our life is a shimmering field of light because we have come to recognize one unalterable truth—that we are one with all living entities and beings, and that we are never alone. The consciousness of interdependence and connectedness, and its attendant responsibility to do no harm, was Ray’s epiphany.