RALEIGH, N.C. — WRAL is mourning the loss of a broadcasting legend and friend. Farm broadcasting Hall of Famer and humorist Ray Wilkinson has died at the age of 79.
Wilkinson was a member of the Capitol Broadcasting family for most of his stellar career in radio and television.
Colleagues described Wilkinson as a walking encyclopedia of farm facts. Farmers recognized him as their voice, their friend and champion.
"I feel lucky that I've been able to work with people who till the soil, that work hard every day and have good principles," Wilkinson said.
Wilkinson was a pioneer among farm broadcasters. He was among the first to develop multistate commodity networks for radio.
"We didn't have a lot of scripts. We just ad-libbed everything we did," he said.
And that included special reports from Europe, Asia, Africa and Russia.
His hard work earned him numerous national awards, including a 1965 Oscar in Agriculture.
In September, Wilkinson received one of North Carolina's highest honors -- the Old North State Award for his service to the community. For 50 years, he led a major restoration effort in Halifax County.
The accolodes never went to his head. Wilkinson was always comfortable making fun of himself.
Wilkinson's ability to make people laugh sent him around the country to countless conventions.
His hayseed duo of Cecil and Leonard became almost as famous as the farm reporter himself.
"Uncle Ray" had even more time to weave his homespun stories in 1995.
That is when he retired as vice president of Capitol Broacasting Company's Tobacco Radio Network.
Wilkinson passed the torch to his son, Dan, who also excelled as a WRAL farm reporter until his tragic death in the fall of 2003.
Wilkinson was deeply wounded by his son's death at age 45. It took its toll on his boundless optimism. But as Wilkinson would put it, life was meant to change and that includes the good and the bad.
As Wilkinson looked back on the changes he had seen in broadcasting he summed them up as only a farm reporter could: " You just learn to make the transition -- just like mules to horses and horses to tractors."
Wilkinson's honors include:
A visitation service will be held on Friday, Dec. 10 from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. at Bryan-Lee Funeral Home, 831 Wake Forest Road in Raleigh. The public is invited to attend.
In lieu of flowers, contributions can be made to the Halifax Historical Restoration Association and/or the Ray Wilkinson 4-H Endowment Fund.
Former WRAL Farm Broadcaster Ray Wilkinson Honored For Service To N.C.