Cecil Ray Canady, admired for his creative marketing and contagious optimism, was overwhelmed by the COVID-19 virus on August 3, 2020. He was 88 and had been living with Alzheimer's Disease since 2011.
Ray was filled with enthusiasm for life and had a passion for music. He smiled effortlessly, loved fiercely, worked cheerfully, and shared these words of encouragement at every opportunity: Be happy.
He was born to Roma and Roy Canady on May 30 in Schoolfield, a mill worker neighborhood built by the Riverside & Dan River Cotton Mill Company. Today that neighborhood, and the high school Ray attended, are part of a national historic district in Danville, Virginia. The district helps tell the story of factory life; a life Ray didn't want for himself.
Instead, Ray enlisted in the U.S. Air Force and played trombone for the 541st Air Force Band, marching for miles and performing jazz in officer's clubs during his service. Thanks to the GI Bill of Rights, he attended the Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond and earned a B.S. in Marketing.
The city of Richmond was good to Ray. He landed his first marketing job there, at Reynolds Metals. He also met Janet Bowman, a neighbor and friend of a friend. He brought her fresh rosebuds, she made him cheese souffl�s, and they married on April 11, 1968. Ray's first child Rosalind, a girl, was born the next year. He rose through the ranks at work to become director of consumer advertising for Reynolds Wrap.
Then Ray left Richmond with his young family for New Orleans, where a dream job waited: agency vice president. Unfortunately, New Orleans was not the ideal home for Ray and his family, but they welcomed a son, Nathan, into the world while living there, and Ray soon moved on to a position as marketing director for Opryland in Nashville.
He was not a fan of country music, yet still lead Opryland and The Grand Old Opry to great success. Billboard Magazine presented Ray with a Special Trendsetter Award in 1975 for organizing and planning the first country music tour of the Soviet Union for the U.S. Department of State.
Later, Ray was lured to Cincinnati to become a member of the executive team for the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, where his passion for classical music was fulfilled but his marketing ambition was not. Not too long after he recognized this, he got an unexpected call from Peter Herschend, who jointly owned several theme parks with his brother, Jack.
That 1980 phone call from Peter launched 18 years of service as corporate vice president of marketing for Silver Dollar City Attractions, with Ray leading efforts to promote the company's flagship park in Branson, Missouri as well as White Water and Dollywood. Ray's marketing vision helped extend tourist season for all of Branson beyond summer into the holidays, put the city on the nation's radar, and got him an invitation to sit on the Missouri State Board of Tourism. He did this happily for years and retired from Silver Dollar City in 1998.
Ray treasured his Silver Dollar City Retiree Pass for many years, easing into life at a slower tempo in Springfield, Missouri. In retirement he read hundreds of books, volunteered at the public library, sang tenor in the First and Calvary Presbyterian Church choir, and did pro bono work for Ozarks Food Harvest, including creation of their slogan "Transforming Hunger Into Hope."
Ray is survived by his wife of 52 years, Janet Canady; daughter Rosalind Canady and her husband Benjamin Tollefsen; son Nathan Canady and his son Skyler Canady and daughter Aislyn Canady; and sisters Edna Ferguson and Marie Haraway.
A private interment ceremony will be held at the Springfield Veterans Cemetery for Ray's family, under direction of Adams Funeral Home, Nixa.
In lieu of flowers, please send memorial donations to Ozarks Food Harvest or the Alzheimer's Association. The family also requests that you make a habit of wearing a mask, to protect others and yourself.