'A tremendous loss' (WITH GALLERY)

·12 min read

Oct. 2—Ray 'Moose' Dutey remembered fondly for decades in government



To say that Ray "Moose" Dutey had a long and storied career in Lawrence County politics is an understatement.

He started working for the Lawrence County government in 1948 and retired as the county auditor in 2011.

Along the way, he became a powerhouse in the Republican Party, locally, statewide and nationally.

"Our loss is Heaven's gain," said the Lawrence County Republican Party of Dutey's passing on Tuesday.

Dutey not only encouraged dozens of people to get into local politics, he was well known enough to attend an Ohio governor's inauguration without an invite and convinced the sitting president of the United States to make an unscheduled campaign stop in Ironton.

Moose was remembered fondly by those he worked with over the decades.

"It's been a tremendous loss to all of us, to all of Lawrence County," said Lawrence County recorder Sharon Gossett Hager, one of many people Dutey convinced to seek elected office.

In talking with people about Dutey, many of them said one of those who knew him best was his close friend Dr. Burton "Doc" Payne.

Payne said his 60-year friendship with Dutey began in 1961.

"Moose's sister was my dad's office manager," Payne recalled. And his brother Red was the coach for Coal Grove and they needed a football doctor."

Payne said, after taking that job, his friendship with Dutey "grew tremendously" in 1964, when they both ran for county office and were elected, with Payne as commissioner and Dutey as recorder.

"He was a great guy and as sharp as a tack," Payne said.

Born the same year, he recalled the running joke the two had.

"He was two days older than me and I never let him forget it," Payne said.

Dutey got the bug for government work when he was a teenager. He attended Dawson-Bryant school board meetings with his dad, James Dutey, who was the board's clerk. The younger Dutey liked what he saw.

It was in 1948 that Dutey began working for the county when he was hired to be part of the survey crew for the county engineer.

In 1951, he was drafted into the U.S. Army and served in the Korean conflict. When he returned, he was determined to get into politics. Just six years later, he was voted onto the Coal Grove Village Council and later ran for a Republican central committeeman slot. Two years later, he became the mayor.

In 1964, he was elected as the Lawrence County Recorder. In 1987, he was appointed to be the Lawrence County Auditor.

He won the office the next year and held the position until he retired in 2011. In 1990, he was named as the head of the county Republican party.

Gossett Hager never worked under Dutey, rather she came in to the recorder's office when it was run by Sue Deeds. Dutey had already moved to the auditor's office, but still remained in constant contact at his old office.

"People often joked that they could find him at the recorder's office rather than the auditor's office, because that was his roots, that is where he started, his political career." Hager said.

She said that Moose was not only a good friend, but a political mentor of hers and "he treated me like family. I was fortunate to be part of the Dutey family."

She said he was the reason that she got involved in politics.

"I often say that he believed in me before I even believed in myself, that I could actually run for a political office and be successful. To say that everything I learned about being a dedicated public servant I learned from Moose would probably not be an understatement."

She said Dutey's legacy is one that will not be easily repeated in this county.

For one thing, Moose never lost an election.

"He had a very long successful career and it is amazing that he never lost an election," Gossett Hager said. "It is a real testament to the type of person he was. It has been a joy knowing him all these years."

Payne and Dutey were deeply involved in the county's Republican Party for decades and, no doubt, played a major role in building it up to its current position of strength in politics.

"We both loved Republican politics," Payne said, pointing out that he served as chair of the county party for 14 years, while Dutey served for 16.

The team of Dutey and Payne worked together to boost their party's candidates, whether it was U.S. Rep Bill Johnson or U.S. Sen. Rob Portman, for whom Dutey and Payne served as county grassroots coordinators in 2016.

He recalled the two working in 1980 when George H.W. Bush came to Ironton for a rally at the high school, when he was the running mate for Ronald Reagan in his successful election to the presidency.

Three years later, Bush appeared in Kentucky at a fundraiser for state Sen. Jim Bunning.

"I got to meet him and he still remembered Tiger Alley," Payne said.

Payne said he and Dutey worked to recruit candidates for county office for the party in following decades.

"We looked for quality people that we would be able to support," he said.

Outside of office, he remembered his friend as devoted to his church, Zoar Baptist in Coal Grove, where he sang in the choir and was in the church's leadership, as well as his work with the Lions Club.

Payne said Dutey brought a lot to all of the positions he held.

"Wherever he was, he was able to change the office and bring them up to date," he said. "And he brought a lot of integrity."

And he said Dutey always served as a role model.

"He sat a path as an example to younger officeholders," Payne said. "He was a mentor to many, and me as well."

One of those people who followed Dutey's path is State Rep. Jason Stephens, R-93, who left his job as a county commissioner to take over as county auditor when Dutey retired.

Stephens first met Dutey in 1996. The two had birthdays four days apart and Dutey was exactly 41 years older than Stephens.

"I just thought it was amazing that a man 41 years older than me would take an interest and care about a young whippersnapper that was taking an interest in politics," Stephens said. "It was humbling, actually."

He remembered Dutey being so full of life and personality, even into his 80s.

He also remembers going on more than one adventure with Moose.

Once when they were in Washington, D.C. for the second George W. Bush inauguration, they got kicked out of the U.S. Supreme Court building.

"Moose would just walk around D.C. until somebody with a gun told him to stop," Stephens said, with a laugh. "We tried to get on an elevator in the Supreme Court building and they told him it was for the justices only. Moose just giggled and walked away."

When Gov. Robert Taft was having his second inauguration in January 2003, Dutey, Stephens, Sue Deeds and Doc Payne headed up to Columbus to attend.

"We were about halfway up there when Sue Deeds asked if we had tickets," Stephens recalled. "Moose just said 'No, but I figure they will just let us in. I'll just do something."

Once they arrived, Dutey took off, and in a few minutes, came back with one of the governor's aides who escorted them into the Ohio Theater and showed them to their seats.

"We ended up sitting in the second row," Stephens said. "We were so close. We could have thrown a spitball at the governor, we were so close. But Moose knew everybody in Columbus, so he got us tickets. That was just the kind of personality he was."

On Wednesday afternoon, Stephens spoke on the floor of the House to honor Dutey.

"He was a good personal friend, a mentor of mine and a great public servant to us here in Ohio," Stephens said. The house members then stood in a moment of silence for Dutey.

Dutey's gift of gab was effective on the federal level too.

While running for re-election in 2004, President George W. Bush was scheduled to hold a rally in Huntington, West Virginia and then have his bus roll down U.S. 52 to another rally in Portsmouth on Sept. 10.

Dutey was at the Republican National Convention as a delegate and talked to Rep. Rob Portman to get the Bush campaign to make a stop in Ironton in front of the Lawrence County Courthouse between the two rallies.

Somehow, it worked, even though, the day before, no one was sure if it had. People were told that the president might stop, but they weren't sure until the Bush bus stopped.

Thousands of Lawrence Countians filled the yard of the courthouse to see the first sitting president to make a visit to Ironton since Harry S. Truman's train stop when he was running for re-election in 1948.

It was a short visit, with Bush getting a key to Ironton from Mayor John Elam. Dutey told The Ironton Tribune that he got to speak to Bush.

"I thanked him for stopping in Ironton," Dutey said. "He said, 'It is a nice crowd.'"

Bush thanked him for the hard work that Dutey was doing and said that they were going to win Ohio.

Dutey even got his picture taken with Bush. The photographer was then senator, now Gov. Mike DeWine.

U.S. Rep. Bill Johnson, R-Ohio, fondly remembered Dutey and his support.

"We'll miss Moose Dutey," Johnson said. "I met him very early in my political journey, and I came to respect him very much for his staunch support of conservative Republican values. He was an early supporter of mine and never wavered. I didn't need to call him to ask him what was up in Lawrence County — if something happened, he called me. I always appreciated that. His family is in LeeAnn and my prayers."

Lawrence County Deputy Auditor Chris Kline said he worked with Dutey for 20 years.

"When I started at the county, he hired me and pushed me into the position of chief deputy, where I am today," he said. "He saw something in me that I didn't in myself and I am where I am at today because of him."

Kline described Dutey as "very much a family person."

"You could see his eyes light up when he talked about his grandchildren," he said. "He always looked after his family. They were always his priority, then church and work."

One of those who served alongside Dutey at the county level for decades was former Lawrence County Clerk of Courts Dale Burcham.

"I knew him for 50 years," Burcham said. "He was working in the courthouse when I took office."

Burcham, a Democrat, said he got along with Dutey, despite being in opposing parties.

"I liked him and he liked me," Burcham said. "And, sometimes, when you're in office, you have to work with the other party to get things done. I can only say good things about him. He was a good guy."

When asked how long he had known Dutey, former Lawrence County Common Pleas Judge Richard Walton said "forever."

"I think he was probably the first person I met in the courthouse when I started to practice law in 1966," Walton said.

He described Dutey as "always a man of his word."

Dr. Burton Payne, Ray "Moose" Dutey and former Lawrence County Common Pleas Judge Richard Walton at the county courthouse. (Photo courtesy of Mary Cogan)

"He treated people so well and fairly," Walton said. "He was always there to answer questions. He didn't always give them the answer they wanted, but it was the right answer."

Walton said Dutey had a deep love for the county and "loved to meet the people."

"I think the only thing he loved more than Lawrence County was Coal Grove," he said of Dutey's hometown, where he served as mayor for two terms.

Walton recalled Dutey working as the announcer for Coal Grove football games, where he was the voice of the Hornets for five decades and the press box is named in his honor, and as a member of the Coal Grove Lions Club.

Walton said, in addition to the courthouse, he usually would cross paths with Dutey at least weekly at public events.

Walton said Dutey excelled at serving others.

"Moose always found the time to talk to people and to help them solve their problems," he said. "He always took the time and he was someone you could count on."

Lawrence County Commission President DeAnna Holliday said she knew of Dutey, growing up in Coal Grove, their shared hometown, where "he was an icon."

"I knew his name before I knew him personally," she said. "He was always stepping up to the plate to serve the people."

She said Dutey "changed the landscape of politics in Lawrence County."

"When he was elected, it was such a breath of fresh air and sincerity into those offices," she said. "I think we're where we're at today because of people like him."

Lawrence County Commissioner Freddie Hayes Jr., said via Facebook that Dutey was "One great fellow and friend. I always went to Moose for advice and he always tried his best to head me in the right direction. He will be greatly missed."

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