C. Niles Ray’s legacy continues to touch Greenville lives

Philanthropist inspired many with quiet leadership and a twinkle in his eye

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Niles Ray, with Debbie Cooper (center) of the Community Foundation of Greenville, and Lesa Kastler

Many who have enjoyed a show, an art exhibit or a sunny day outdoors in downtown Greenville don’t realize their lives have been touched by C. Niles Ray, a local businessman who gave generously of his time, resources and enthusiasm to projects from Falls Park and the Peace Center to the Greenville County Museum of Art and the YMCA.

Ray, who served in the Navy in the early 1960s, started his career with Merrill Lynch in Asheville, North Carolina, and moved to Greenville in 1974 to open a new branch. As business grew, Ray sought opportunities to give back to the community.

Ben Clauss, senior vice president with Merrill Lynch, who worked with Ray for two decades and considered him a mentor and friend, said Ray led an officewide initiative to support Falls Park with a Merrill Lynch sponsorship that was funded entirely by local employees.

“He was selfless, thoughtful and incredibly generous, not only with his pocketbook but with his time as he volunteered at Meals on Wheels, the Community Foundation, the Symphony and Fourth Presbyterian Church, among others,” Clauss said. “Niles did not prefer the spotlight, but his quiet leadership was well respected by others. Niles would often reflect how blessed and fortunate he was. At the same time, I saw how blessed and fortunate his family, friends and ultimately the Greenville community were for his legacy.”

Greenville benefitted greatly from Ray’s involvement with the Peace Center during its construction and early operating years. Megan Riegel, President and CEO, said he served multiple terms as a Peace Center trustee, was on the executive committee and headed the investment committee.

“Niles was funny, warm, smart and just plain fun,” Riegel said. “He enjoyed the Peace Center as much as anyone we’ve ever known and was an active patron and donor from the time our doors opened in 1990. I’ve only ever heard positive and beautiful words spoken about this extraordinary man.”

Ray recognized the value of education, and supported nonprofits such as A Child’s Haven and United Way that help children and youth. In honor of his uncle, who made it possible for him to attend college, he established an endowed scholarship fund at Greenville Technical College to assist students with limited resources.

Ray found that he could maximize his support for a number of his most-cherished causes through the Community Foundation of Greenville. Beginning in 2000, he became actively involved with the organization, which makes grants that support a number of his favorite charities, including Greenville Free Medical Clinic and Gateway House. He enjoyed serving on the board of directors, the development committee, grants review committee, and the Margaret Linder Southern Endowment Fund committee, until his death in October of 2017.

Bob Morris, president of the Community Foundation of Greenville, said in addition to contributing faithfully to the organization’s annual campaign, Ray and his wife Lynne established a donor-advised fund, from which they recommended grants. At his death, the couple made an unrestricted gift of the balance of their fund and designated the Community Foundation as the beneficiary of his IRA.

“For a person who’s charitable, a legacy gift of an IRA is a tax-efficient way to support the causes that matter to you after your lifetime,” Morris said. “Niles told people how to make their giving simpler and more powerful, and if he was going to ask someone to give, he felt better if he had done it himself. He was a delightful person, always with a twinkle in his eye. We enjoyed him very much and miss him greatly.”

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