Ronnie Lee McCray had worked at Paul’s Neighborhood Restaurant and Deli in Williamsburg for more than 40 years when he died Wednesday.
“Ronnie just cared for everyone, he was a huge impact on thousands of people this community,” said George Tsipas, Paul’s owner. “He was more than just someone that made your sandwich. He was family.”
McCray, 57, began working for the restaurant when he was just 14, Tsipas said. When Tsipas and his brother Peter bought Paul’s from the original owner in 1986, they were told that McCray was a family member.
And after working with him for more than 30 years, Tsipas still considers McCray as an honorary brother.
McCray was a manager at the restaurant, and Tsipas attributes part of the success of the deli to McCray’s loyalty and hard work. Often McCray was able to recall customer orders and names even after not seeing them for decades.
“He was a Williamsburg legend … He would greet me with ‘hot holly, no pickle, no lettuce!'” said Paul’s guest John Daly. “His warm greeting for those who went to Paul’s made everyone feel like a local.”
It was this dedication to service and connection with guests that will make people remember him, Tsipas said.
“Always with the smile,” Tsipas said. “When people think of Ronnie, they’ll remember him like that.”
McCray was well-loved in the community for welcoming William & Mary students and family throughout the years, with many of his returning customers expressing their grief at his passing. A post about McCray’s death on the restaurant’s Facebook page has more than 1,500 likes and 500 shares.
Even co-workers who had long since left the restaurant remembered the impact McCray had.
“When I showed up to work with emotional baggage he pulled me aside, gave me a hug, then told me to shake it off and get back to work,” said Megan Moats, a former employee at the restaurant. “He always made me laugh, we had running inside jokes that carried on for over a decade.”
A little over three years ago, McCray was diagnosed with cancer after doctors discovered a tumor in his stomach, Tsipas said. With his passing comes a community of support and remembrance for a man that fought through his last day, Tsipas said.
“I don’t care who you ask in Williamsburg,” Tsipas said. “Anyone that knew him is going to remember Ronnie as a special soul.”
McCray will be remembered at 1 p.m. on Wednesday in Bethel Restoration Center, 6205 Richmond Road, with Pastor Ventson Robinson officiating. Interment will follow in Cedar Grove Cemetery.
Family and friends will assemble at 110 Carriage Road by noon on Wednesday.
Viewing for McCray will be from 5 to 7 p.m. Tuesday at Whiting’s funeral home, 7005 Pocahontas Trail.