(Note: The following is a transcript of my eulogy for my employer and friend, Johnston County Capital-Democrat Publisher Ray Lokey, which was delivered on Saturday, Nov. 18, at Ray's memorial service. The service was held in Fletcher Auditoirum on the campus of Murray State College in Tishomingo.)

I've been agonizing all week about what I was going to say when I got up here… It's hard to sum up in just a few short minutes a relationship that lasted over a quarter of a century. But let me start by sharing something that I wrote in my newspaper column this past week, and which - thankfully - I did get the opportunity to say to Ray himself not long before his passing:

Ray Lokey was my boss, he was my mentor, he was my friend… and he was something more besides. Something that, as the oldest of three children, I did not have while I was growing up, and something I didn't even realize I had missed until Ray came into my life. He was the older brother I never had.

In the last couple of years Ray and I had started to joke that we'd been together longer than a lot of marriages last nowadays. We made a pretty good team, I think, and we both felt like we brought out the best in one another as journalists. When Ray received the Milt Phillips Award from the Oklahoma Press Association in 2014, he thanked me and called me his “good right arm.” I don't know that I've ever really deserved that accolade, but the fact that he believed it enough to say so in public meant more to me than any award I've ever received for my work.

There are so many memories of Ray that I'll forever cherish, far too many to even attempt to encapsulate here. But I would like to say that, whenever I think of Ray Lokey, there are three aspects about his life that will always stand out:

The first was his boundless sense of optimism, most often expressed in that big cheesy grin of his but also in so many other ways. No matter how bad things got, he could always be counted on to tell us that it would get better. Sometimes I would tease him a little about that; once I told him that he was the kind of person who gets a speeding ticket and is happy that the system works.

But it was exactly that sort of optimism that made him such a great cheerleader for Tishomingo and Johnston County, and a great person to have on your side when the going got tough or when there was some specific mission that had to be carried out for the benefit of the community.

Which brings me to the second thing that I'll always remember and love about Ray: his passion for the things he believed in and cared about. Whether it was the effort to find a location for the new county courthouse or the county veterans memorial, or bringing concerned citizens together to wage the war to protect our local aquifer, or simply to stand up in support of reliable, fact-driven journalism in this day of cable TV propaganda masquerading as news and Facebook pages devoted to gossip, innuendoes and outright lies, Ray Lokey got involved.

And got the rest of us involved right along with him.

That's probably the most important lesson he taught me about the profession we both loved, the one lesson I didn't learn in college: the importance of "community activist journalism," the idea that the local newspaper - particularly in a rural area like Johnston County - should play a more active role in events than merely that of casual observer. Ray led by example, and I'd like to think I learned from that example. Certainly my own involvement in a number of groups and organizations over the years can be traced directly to Ray's influence. And I can never thank him enough for that.

The third thing that will always stand out in my mind about Ray is his devotion to family. And by family I mean not just those related to him by ties of blood and marriage, although certainly his deep love for his brothers and sisters and their families was a joy to behold and another source of inspiration to those of us who knew him. But for Ray, "family" also meant his staff at the newspaper and our families. Every member of the staff who worked for him over the years can share stories in that regard. Here are just a few of the ones I cherish:

The way he doted on my two sons, Joshua and Willam, when they were growing up, giving them their first jobs as paper boys when they were both still quite young and actively supporting Josh's efforts to establish himself as a professional photographer.

The way Ray always said that it just wasn't Christmas at the C-D until my wife Melissa made him a helping of her homemade meatballs, and I brought in my Christmas music collection that included the Barking Dogs' "Jingles Bells" and Porky Pig singing "Blue Christmas."

And the way he was there to support me during some of the darkest moments of my life, most recently the unexpected death of my mother earlier this year. In the midst of his own health problems, Ray - with the help of his brother Rex - endured a lengthy car ride to attend Mom's funeral.

He'd maybe met her only three or four times over the years. But she was my mom, and for Ray that meant she was family to him too.

One Tuesday night in early 2016, after wrapping up that week's paper and sending it off to the printer, Ray and I were sitting around chatting and for some reason it occurred to him that July of that year would mark the 25th anniversary of when I first came to work for him. We made some jokes about things we might do to celebrate, but then he suddenly turned serious and suggested that I might put together a collection of some of my favorite feature stories I'd written for the C-D during those and publish them as a book.

I mulled the idea over for a week or two before finally agreeing to do it, and when the book came out that July I dedicated it to Ray - in part because the project had been his idea, and in part because it seemed a hopefully fitting way of saying "Thank you" to him for everything he'd done for me during those 25 years. The words were kind of silly but they came from the heart, and so with your indulgence I'd like to conclude by sharing that dedication here now:

"To my boss and friend (not necessarily in that order), Capital-Democrat Publisher Ray Lokey. If my life were a J.R.R. Tolkien book or a George Lucas movie, Ray would have been the wizard who recruited me for some epic quest; in real life he's the nice man who gave me a chance all those years ago, and today still signs my paycheck every week. Either way, I appreciate it. Thanks, Ray."

And to that let me just add: God bless you, my friend.