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Elaine Ray: Calm center of a hurricane

On the afternoon of Jan. 13, when the phone call came that James Robinson, editor of Stanford Report, had lost his months-long battle with cancer, News Service Director Elaine Ray called her staff into the paper's production area to share the bad news. As they gathered in the conference room a few minutes later, many of the close-knit group were in tears or in shock. It was just a few hours before the paper's deadline -- always among the busiest and most intense hours of every week.

"Stay as long as you need to," Ray said, as she passed around a box of tissues.

The paper came out on time, just as it had during the difficult weeks of Robinson's illness. And the next day, opening up her home to her colleagues, Ray put out bowls and platters of mashed potatoes, fried chicken and other comfort food.

"That's one of the hardest things that any manager would have to face. Elaine's response was remarkable," said Kate Chesley, associate director of University Communications. "She helped the staff continue to produce and publish Stanford Report while providing a big, soft shoulder to cry on. I marvel at Elaine's management skills, deep sense of concern for her staff, tremendous integrity, commitment to professional excellence and remarkable service to Stanford. I am, in short, a fan."

Dozens and dozens more fans sent letters and e-mails to the Amy Blue Award committee. They wrote about Ray's compassion, but also her humor, grace, leadership, thoughtfulness and good judgment.

"I would go to the ends of the Earth for Elaine Ray," wrote John Sanford, who joined the staff in 2000 and is now Stanford Report editor and associate director for print at the News Service. "She is by far the best editor and supervisor I have ever worked for -- a model of pitch-perfect diplomacy, grace under pressure and energetic goodwill."

Others describe Ray as unflappable, unruffled, "the calm eye in the center of the hurricane." Ray laughed when she heard herself described as "unflappable." "Have you seen my fingernails?" she asked.

Whether it is last year's preparations for a possible outbreak of SARS, the latest Stanford scholar to be awarded an international prize or last week's suspected mountain lion attack on a horse in the Dish area, Ray's pager is always one of the first on the campus to start buzzing. In addition to news generated at Stanford, the News Service also responds to hundreds of calls each year from print and broadcast reporters seeking experts to comment on breaking news.

Ray "is an ocean of calm in what daily could be a sea of catastrophe," wrote Jack Hubbard, associate director for broadcast at the News Service. "Stanford is under a public microscope, the news cycle is unrelenting and requires not only attention to detail but also the ability to deliver content under extreme pressure with consistency of execution." Ray exceeds those demands every day, he said.

Ray's expertise is founded on professional experience, Hubbard said. A former editor of Essence magazine, Ray was an editorial writer for the Boston Globe, where she wrote about issues including apartheid, Haitian refugees, domestic violence, public education and civil rights. In 1995, she came to Stanford for a year as the recipient of a John S. Knight Fellowship for professional journalists.

Before she left Stanford in 1996 to return to Boston, Ray applied for a job at the News Service. A few months later, she was offered the job, and she and her daughter, Zuri, then a first-grader, returned to the university. Ray worked as a writer and Stanford Report editor before being named news director in 2001.

"The nicest thing about this award is that I've just been being myself," Ray said. "I try to create a great working atmosphere for people, to encourage them. This is an open-hearted place."

Elaine Ray
Ray oversees a complex news operation that produces the Stanford Report while handling hundreds of media requests. She is "an ocean of calm in what daily could be a sea of catastrophe," a colleague said.
Photo: L.A. Cicero

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