By Tom Henderson • Staff Writer • 

No tears for the Cry Guy?

Wayne Ojua, who serves on the board of the Hopewell Cemetery, 14 miles southeast of McMinnville, said few people come to pay their respects.

It’s a strange and lonely way to start eternity for a man once considered immortal. After all, he only died 25 years ago.

Thousands of people flock to the graves of Jim Morrison, John Lennon and other rock stars, to lay flowers and offer tributes. Yet few shed tears at the grave of Johnnie Ray.

He certainly did a lot of weeping himself. He raised vocal music out of the crooner era with the emotional tremble of hits like 1951’s “Whiskey and Gin” and 1952’s “Cry.” The latter cemented his reputation, earning him such nicknames as the Nabob of Sob and the Cry Guy.

But where are the tears for the Nabob of Sob now? Ojua said they come mostly from other countries, where Johnnie Ray remains popular to this day.

“I got a call from England recently,” Ojua said. “Some guy wanted to know where Johnnie Ray was buried. I told him, but I haven’t heard anything since.

“I also got a call once from someone in Brazil, who came out here and placed a wreath. It was a nice wreath; it lasted a long time.”

He said, “I have no idea who it was from. Probably someone he met during his travels.”

Tom Henderson/News-Register
Singer Johnnie Ray’s grave goes largely unnoticed at the Hopewell Cemetery. Ray died at age 63 on Feb. 24, 1990 — three months after his final concert, a benefit for the Grand Theater in Salem.

Although jazz singer Tony Bennett is among those terming Johnnie Ray perhaps the most important influence of all on rock ‘n’ roll, Ray’s star began to fade in the mid-’50s. He may have well written his own professional epitaph in 1956, as Elvis Presley was releasing his first hit single, “Heartbreak Hotel.”

Returning from a European tour, Ray was asked by reporters what he thought of the up and coming singer. He reportedly responded, “What’s an Elvis Presley?”

Ray was soon eclipsed by Presley and other singers of the new rock ‘n’ roll era. However, Ojua said interest in the singer spiked briefly with his death in 1990.

Ray was just 63. But, as one magazine put it, he had lived a life full “tears, fears and too many beers.”

“We got a lot of interest after that,” Ojua said. “I knew we would.

“I was the chairman of the cemetery board at the time, and I knew he wasn’t going to be buried in California. His parents are buried in the older section, and his sister bought the original plots for her, her husband and him.”

Ray is buried next to his sister, Elma Ray Money (1923-1996), and her sister’s husband, David H. Money (1927-1995). On Memorial Day, David Money has more decorations on his grave than Ray, because he’s a veteran.

While other celebrities’ gravesites often feature elaborate shrines to their legacies, Ray’s says simply, “John Alvin Ray (1927–1990).”

Few people remember Johnnie Ray the celebrity and even fewer Johnny Ray the kid who grew up in the Polk County community of Dallas, said Clorene Robertson, 91. The people of Dallas tried to start an annual Johnnie Ray Day in 2002, but it turned out to be a strictly one and done affair.

“He had a lot of family around here,” Robertson said. But she went on to note, “Of course, many of them are gone now.”

Robertson visits Hopewell every Memorial Day to honor her own loved ones.

Her father-in-law, Glenn Robertson, used to own the land now occupied by the newer section of the cemetery. She remembers picking strawberries on the property where Johnnie Ray and her family members are now buried.

Her son, Clayton Robertson (1952-1980), lies in one of the graves she tends.

“I can remember bringing my son up here with his sled so he could race down the hill,” Robertson said. “He loved the view.

“When he died, they said at his funeral that Clayton was always one for a view. Well, he got his view.”

Every stone in a cemetery, of course, tells a story.

Dottie Leathers, 80, of Amity, visits Hopewell to honor her mother, Spicie Marie.

Leathers said her mother’s parents came here from France. Upon arrival, their name of “LeMon” was anglicized to “Lemon.”

They apparently thought “Spicie Lemon” would be a memorable name, and it was certainly that. It was passed on to Leathers’ late sister, Spicie Ann Davis.

Tom Henderson/News-Register

LaVerda Butler, left, Stephanie Wolfe and Candy Scranton tend the graves of loved ones Charles and Lillian Irwin at the Hopewell Cemetery in what is an annual Memorial Day ritual for the three generations of the family.


Every Memorial Day, Leathers lays flowers at the graves of her mother, her sister and her 11 other siblings.

Candy Scranton, 46, has a similarly daunting task, as she and her mother, LeVerda Butler, 75, have numerous loved ones buried in the cemetery. “It feels like my old stomping grounds,” Scranton said.

Now there is another grave to add to their list. Scranton said it’s terrible Ray’s grave gets so little attention, and she’s determined to do something about it.

“Well, he’s going to have someone tending to his grave now,” Scranton said. “We’ll see to that.

“He’s been officially added to our rounds. He’s family now.”


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