If W. Ray Persons weren’t a skilled litigator, he’d be an astronaut — specifically Frank Borman, commander of Apollo 8. To Ray, Frank embodies magnanimity through leadership, integrity, courage, perseverance and intellectual curiosity.
“He was an explorer with a 50/50 shot,” Ray says. “But he took it because he was devoted to his country. I admire that unwavering dedication to things bigger than oneself.“
But Ray personifies those qualities in his own right, and it radiates when he speaks. His words are powerful, carefully chosen yet fluid. He speaks fervently about his experiences as a senior partner at Atlanta’s King & Spalding, a prominent international law firm representing half of the Fortune Global 100. He speaks about trying a complex product liability case, one involving an auto accident and a permanently impaired 12‐year‐old boy, deeming that argument his most gripping to date. And he speaks with reverence toward Ohio State, toward the university’s influence on his past and its role in our collective future.
Reflecting on his youth, Ray seems always to have had this energy and confidence — a drive (on a sometimes‐meandering road, he admits) to succeed in a field that included only five black attorneys in his hometown of Savannah, Georgia. But where his natural talents and wherewithal overflowed, money did not. At one point, he dropped out of college to work long hours in the hopes of eventually resuming his education. A scholarship proved his lifeline.
“[My scholarship to Ohio State] was funded by the Cleveland Bar Association and [the law firm of Benesch, Friedlander, Coplan & Aronoff, LLP]. They were instrumental in funding scholarships for under‐represented minorities. They paid the difference between in‐state and out‐of‐state tuition. It was a national acknowledgement that recognized the struggles I had, and it made college affordable.”
Ray ultimately earned his J.D. from Moritz in 1978. Because of the help received, he considers paying forward a privilege and responsibility. That means, in part, serving his alma mater through Ohio State’s Foundation Board, where he now serves as secretary.
“It’s an eclectic group of people with unmitigated love and devotion for and to the university. I feel this role has enabled me to contribute in a more meaningful way toward Ohio State’s advancement.”
He and his wife, Wendy, have also endowed a merit scholarship at Moritz in honor of their children. And Ray visits Moritz regularly to meet with students, share his experiences and offer guidance. He does this because he intimately understands the promise behind professional aspirations and the power Buckeye students wield. He contends Ohio State is an incubator for the “betterment of mankind.”