William McKenzie Ragland, Raleigh civic leader and businessman whose brick company provided materials for much of the region’s growth, died at his home on Tuesday, March 31, 2015. He was 91 years old.
Mr. Ragland was known for his kind spirit, generosity, quick wit, integrity, sense of duty and perseverance in the face of adversity. He was dearly loved by his children, grandchildren and many others whose lives he touched over a long life.
Born on August 30, 1923 in Salisbury, NC to Alice McKenzie and William Trent Ragland, Sr., Mr. Ragland grew up in Raleigh on Woodburn Road and enjoyed playing in the vast forest that is now Cameron Village. He attended Wiley Elementary School, followed by two years at Needham Broughton High School. He continued his secondary schooling at Woodberry Forest School and Sewanee Military Academy.
After he attended two years at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, World War II intervened. He was selected for the Navy’s officers’ training program and attended Midshipman’s School at Northwestern University in Chicago. He was commissioned as an Ensign and later promoted to Lieutenant (jg). He served in the Pacific Theater and saw sea duty in the Solomon, Mariana and Gilbert Islands until the end of the war.
Mr. Ragland returned to UNC-CH, continuing as a member of Zeta Psi Fraternity and earning a Bachelor of Science degree in Business Administration. After graduation he went to work in Charlottesville, VA for Superior Stone Company, which was founded by his father, Trent Ragland, Sr. and his uncle, Edmond Ragland, and which later became Martin Marietta Aggregates.
In 1948, he married Elizabeth (Betty) White Johnson, a Raleigh native and graduate of Sweet Briar College. The couple moved back to Raleigh and in 1957 he purchased Cherokee Brick Company, serving as president until his retirement in 1984. During that period, the company enjoyed a ten-fold increase in brick production, becoming one of the largest brick companies in North Carolina and surrounding states.
Mr. Ragland was a member of the board of directors of First Union National Bank, the Rex Hospital Foundation, and the Wake County Cerebral Palsy and Rehabilitation Center. He also served on the board of trustees of St. Mary’s College (now St. Mary’s School) in Raleigh. In 1971, St. Mary’s College dedicated a classroom building in honor of his mother, Alice McKenzie Ragland, Class of 1914. In 1990, the brick perimeter wall of St. Mary’s was built in honor of Mr. Ragland’s beloved wife of nearly 57 years, Betty Johnson Ragland.
At St. Michael’s Episcopal Church in Raleigh, he was a member of the vestry and served as its senior warden. In addition, he was a member of numerous clubs and organizations and was the president of the Sphinx Club and the Carrousel Club.
In 1988, at age 65, Mr. Ragland was involved in a tragic hunting accident which rendered him blind. For over 26 years, he displayed remarkable courage, resourcefulness, and a positive attitude toward his circumstances. Prior to this accident, Mr. Ragland was an avid golfer and tennis player, and he also enjoyed fishing, boating and billiards. Throughout his life he took great pleasure in discussing topics of the day with his friends and family.
In addition to their life in Raleigh, Bill and Betty Ragland also loved spending time in Atlantic Beach, NC and in Vero Beach, Florida at John’s Island, where they spent the winter months for 28 years and made many cherished friends.
Mr. Ragland is survived by his three children, Elizabeth (Betty) Ragland Park and her husband Fred Miller Park, of Raleigh; Josephine (Jody) Ragland Darden and her husband, Thomas Francis Darden II, of Raleigh; and William McKenzie Ragland, Jr. and his wife, Christine Paine Ragland, of Atlanta.
He is also survived by seven grandchildren, Thomas Francis Darden III, James Ragland Darden, Elizabeth Darden Wooten, Nathanial Ragland Park, Catherine Elizabeth Ragland, William McKenzie Ragland III, and Robert Paine Ragland.
He was predeceased by his wife, Betty Johnson Ragland, in 2005, and recently by his brother, W. Trent Ragland, Jr.
The family would like to express their sincere gratitude to his loving caregivers, Ann Murray, Janet Riddle, Linda Ball, and Jane Nelson, and his physician, Wells Edmundson, who each helped to make his life comfortable for many years.
In lieu of flowers, memorials may be made to Holy Trinity Anglican Church, 549 North Blount St., Raleigh, NC 27604, the Boys and Girls Club of Wake County, 701 North Raleigh Blvd., Raleigh NC 27610, Step Up Ministry, 1701 Oberlin Road, Raleigh, NC 27608 or to the charity of the donor’s choice.
The funeral service will be held at the graveside at 2:00 p.m. Friday, April 3, 2015, at Historic Oakwood Cemetery, 701 Oakwood Ave. in Raleigh. The family welcomes visitors from 5 -7 p.m., Thursday, April 2nd at the Ragland home in Raleigh.
Arrangements by Brown-Wynne Funeral Home, St. Mary’s Street, Raleigh.