CHARLES TOWN – Ray Walls has a new passion in life.
Long devoted to church, his family and his family business – Walls Burial & Vault Co. – the 77-year-old Kearneyville resident these days is also happy to spend time on behalf of the American Cancer Society of Jefferson County.
On Friday evening, Walls will be at Charles Town Middle School as the Relay For Life kicks off at 7 p.m. He is the honorary chairman of the 2012 event.
“I’ve never been fishing, never been hunting,” he said in an interview. “I’ve never been to a one of my kids’ ballgames. I don’t smoke, I never drank. I work long hours and always have, but this is something I want to spend my time on.”
Walls and many of his relatives and friends have become passionate supporters of the American Cancer Society’s yearly fundraiser since his daughter Barbara Walls succumbed to the disease. She’d fought cancer for four years when she died at age 51 in late 2010.
Walls himself is a cancer survivor who has endured three rounds of chemo plus a course of radiation since being diagnosed with skin cancer in 1993. He still has stitches from his most recent cancer surgery, an eight-hour operation at the University of Virginia Medical Center in Charlottesville, Va., on the 57th anniversary of his marriage to Nora Walls.
But Walls allows neither his health challenges nor his demanding work schedule – he’s on the job at 5 a.m. seven days a week – interfere with his assistance with Barb’s Blessing Bonanza, the Relay For Life team his daughters, daughters-in-law and other family members created in his daughter’s memory.
“They know they can ask me for whatever they need and if there’s any way I can help, I’ll be there,” Walls said.
Walls’ ability to connect with people comes from his own cancer experience, the loss of his daughter and also his occupation. He’s dealt with death all of his life. His father started the family business, which involves preparing graves for funerals, providing transportation from hospitals to funeral homes, maintaining cemeteries across the area and other funeral-related tasks.
He took over Walls’ in 1952 and now employs a full-time staff of 14, including 12 family members. His daughter Barbara worked for 19 years as a transportation coordinator for the family business.
“Running the business, we’ve gotten to know so many people over the years,” Walls said. “We’ve been there when they’re going through a tough time. Anytime I can travel along and talk to folks [on behalf of cancer research], I’m there.”
He said he’s proud of the work being done by Relay For Life. “Yes, indeed. It’s wonderful how hard everyone’s working,” he said. “It’s going to take a lot of work and a lot of money to someday find a cure.”
He’s hoping to see a big turnout for this year’s Relay For Life, which is being organized by co-chairs, Krystal and Francis Javor. Anyone in the community may take part.
The relay officially begins at 7 p.m. with the Survivors Lap around the school’s track. It’s open to anyone who has ever been diagnosed with cancer.
Before participants hit the track, they will gather for dinner at 5:30 p.m. at the school. To see if there’s still space to sign up, call organizer Susie Mechanick at 304-876-9179 or register online at www.relayforlife.org/jeffersonwv.
One of the most anticipated parts of the relay is the luminaria ceremony, which begins at 9:30 p.m. Designed to recognize those touched by cancer in Jefferson County, the ceremony involves both individuals and businesses making contributions both in memory of those who have lost their fight with cancer and in honor of survivors.
The lighted luminaria will be displayed along the middle school’s track. Those making a $10 donation will be designated with a white bag while those making a $20 donation will get a gold-bag luminaria.
To honor or remember someone with a luminaria, visit www.relayforlife.org/jeffersonwv or make a donation in person at the relay before 8 p.m.
For more information on the Relay For Life, contact Barbara Henry at the American Cancer Society at 304-271-8818.