NORFOLK — More than 50 years ago, Clarence Ray took advantage of an offer he couldn’t refuse – work for his father’s auto repair business to pay for his first semester each year at Old Dominion University and his father would pay for the second semester.
“ODU was a perfect fit for me,” he said. “We didn’t have the money for me to go out of town to college. I lived right in the Norfolk area, so I commuted to school.”
Spending too much time working for his father, however, caused his grades to suffer to the point of receiving an expulsion letter from the dean of engineering.
That’s when faculty advisor Fred Moreadith stepped in. Seeing Ray’s potential, Moreadith made another offer – “cut back your work hours at your father’s shop and I’ll do everything I can to convince the dean to reverse your expulsion.”
“I was so pleased that my faculty adviser had that much faith in me that I wanted to honor that by doing my very best,” Ray said.
His very best might be an understatement. Ray, who received his engineering degree in 1970, became a power player in the power industry, spending most of his nearly 45-year career at Duke Energy in North Carolina.
His more than 36 years at Duke included serving as CEO for two Duke Energy subsidiaries, one being Duke Fluor Daniel, a multi-billion-dollar international engineering and construction partnership.
“Duke Fluor Daniel was put together to design and build power plants both here in the U.S. and internationally,” Ray said. “I started as vice president of engineering and then after about a year, I was vice president of projects and then became president and CEO. We grew the company from four or five hundred million-dollar revenue to between three and a half and four billion dollars in revenue.”
After serving as CEO for another subsidiary, Duke Energy Generation Services, Ray retired from Duke in 2007. But he didn’t stop there.
He was lured by the Shaw Group, another major energy company, where he became CEO of the power division.
Ray attributes much of his success to the broad-based engineering knowledge he received at ODU.
“I’ve always felt that the education that I got at ODU played a significant role in my ability to do what I was able to do over my 44-year career,” he said. “Having classes in electrical and mechanical and civil engineering gave me a broad understanding of engineering, how to think in the context of all of those things.”
Ray gives back to ODU in the form of an endowed scholarship for engineering students.
“It’s not a big scholarship, but it’s appreciated,” he said. “I get letters from the scholarship awardees, some short letters and some very long, all of them nice letters detailing their backgrounds and so forth, so that’s been a really rewarding experience.”
Ray describes the endowment process as simple and believes any alum can do it.
“You don’t have to start with a huge amount of money,” he said. “A set amount of money, agree that you’ll put this much in and do it year after year after year, and it grows over time. So you don’t have to even be at the level where they would do a scholarship right away. You can start at a small level, let it grow and then the university will start issuing scholarships under that. The school manages the money very well.”