Just Listen -- Ray Tye, Boston Philanthropist, Dies At 87

05/11/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011

In my prior blog, I offered a tribute to my long time friend and mentor, Ward Wieman.

My sadness and gratitude this week finds yet another person who has passed away. Ray Tye was my father's boss for over 30 years and had been generous to my family, especially my mother, after my dad died in 1995.

His generosity knew no bounds as this Boston Globe obituary will show:

Ray Tye, philanthropist moved by plight of needy, dies at 87

March 10, 2010 03:14 PM


Globe staff photo by John Tlumacki

Ray Tye in 2007 with conjoined Egyptian twins whose separation surgery he covered.

Ray Tye was one of Boston's biggest philanthropists, but he didn't much care for the title, and he was even less interested in the kind of public attention his private donations could have brought.

The chairman emeritus of United Liquors gave away millions, often offering to cover expensive medical costs after he read a newspaper article about someone who was poor and desperate and in need of lifesaving care.

"He always did this quietly and never wanted his name associated with anything," said his wife, Eileen. "He never wanted his name chiseled into a hospital facade or put on a plaque."

Mr. Tye, who died in his Cambridge home this morning of cancer at 87, only agreed to be the public face of the Ray Tye Medical Aid Foundation, which his wife and friends created as a 80th birthday present for him, because his name might draw others to contribute to the kind of goodwill he saw as his life's work.

"Ray Tye was a great Bostonian and an even greater source of inspiration," Mayor Thomas M. Menino said in a statement. "He did so much for so many, always offering help to those that needed it the most. His legacy of helping children have a better life no matter what the circumstance -- whether they were from young people in Roxbury to kids in Afghanistan -- will not be forgotten. Ray cannot be replaced but we can honor him by helping those in need. He always ended every conversation with 'What can I do for you?' He will be missed."

When 12-year-old Rakan Hassan was accidentally shot by US troops in Iraq and paralyzed in 2005, Mr. Tye paid the cost of bringing him to Boston for treatment. When a stray bullet killed 10-year-old Trina Persad in Dorchester in 2002, Mr. Tye paid for her funeral. When Mr. Tye read about two conjoined twins from Egypt who were about to leave the United States because no money was available for surgery to separate the boys, he wrote a check for $100,000 the next day.

"They were going to be sent home to die," Mr. Tye told the Globe in 2007.

His money helped Boston institutions, too. When Red Auerbach couldn't make payroll for the Boston Celtics in the late 1940s, Mr. Tye covered that bill, too.

"In the Jewish tradition, we say about someone who has passed away, 'May his memory be a blessing,' " said Barry Shrage, president of Combined Jewish Philanthropies in Boston. "This man's presence was a blessing to the Jewish community and the general community every day of his life."

A. Raymond Tye was born in Haverhill, the second of three children. His father, an immigrant from Kosovo, made shoes, and the family changed its last name from Tikotsky to Tye at the behest of his mother.

Mr. Tye, who always went by Ray from childhood, began his charitable giving when he lived in tenement apartments with his family.

"He talked about how they'd go up the back stairs and there would be little boxes for charity and he'd put change in," said his son Mark of Aspen, Colo.

Mr. Tye graduated from Haverhill High School and went to Tufts University, where he planned to study to become a social worker.

"I worked my way through a portion of college living in Norfolk House, which was a settlement house," he told the Boston Herald in 1985.

Children from broken homes came to Norfolk House for occupational therapy and recreation, he recalled in the Herald interview.

World War II intervened and Mr. Tye joined the Army, serving as a first lieutenant in the military police and as an adjutant to General George S. Patton. He was wounded during the war and worked for his family after returning home, before taking a job with United Liquors, which then was a small operation with three trucks and 30 workers.

Mr. Tye rose from warehouse worker to salesman, sales manager, general sales manager, and, in 1957, president of the company.

He became chairman emeritus of United Liquors when the company was sold to the Martignetti family in 2007.

"An extension of our family was the United Liquors family," said his son James of Rio de Janeiro.

If someone was sick or had an ill relative, he said, Mr. Tye would arrange for the best medical care and often cover the cost of treatment.

Helping others outside his families was a natural extension.

"I said to him, 'Ray, you did become a social worker, your goals have been met,' " his wife said.

"My philosophy is what you take out of this world you put back in," Mr. Tye told the Herald in 1985.

In addition to his wife and two sons, Mr. Tye leaves two other children from his first marriage, his daughters Carol Rose of Lakewood, Colo., and Randy O'Brien of North Easton; a stepdaughter, Lauren Cronin of Wellesley; and five grandchildren.

A memorial service will be held at 11 a.m. on Monday in Congregation Mishkan Teflia in Chestnut Hill. Burial will be in Children of Israel Cemetery in Haverhill.