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The Jewish Press of Tampa and the Jewish Press of Pinellas County are Independently- owned biweekly Jewish community newspapers published in cooperation with and supported by the Tampa JCC & Federation and the Jewish Federation of Pinellas & Pasco Counties, respectively. Copyright © 2009-2019 The Jewish Press Group of Tampa Bay, Inc., All Rights Reserved.


December 19, 2014  RSS feed
Front Page

Text: T T T

Gulf Coast CEO remembered as respected leader, loving mother

By BOB FRYER Jewish Press

Rochelle Tatrai-Ray’s death shed light on domestic violence. Rochelle Tatrai-Ray’s death shed light on domestic violence. The Dec. 18 violent death of Rochelle Tatrai Ray, president and CEO of Gulf Coast Jewish Family & Community Services has rocked the local Jewish community and left a void at the agency.

Those who worked with Tatrai-Ray, 46, praised her as a humanitarian, a tireless, devoted and respected leader of the agency, a woman of great compassion and a loving single mother deeply devoted to her two daughters.

Gulf Coast board members noted their “deepest regret” and “heart wrenching pain” in learning of her death, adding that she “was apparently the victim of a domestic violence murder.”

Tatrai-Ray and Sean Earl Ray, 46, of Lutz, the estranged father of their two daughters, ages 16 and 20, were found dead in Tatrai- Ray’s Largo townhouse in a murder-suicide.

Largo Police said Tatrai-Ray was shot multiple times and Ray was shot once.

Their bodies were found by their 16-yearold daughter. A Gulf Coast official said Tatrai- Ray’s older daughter also lives in the area in her own residence while in the process of transferring from one college to another.

Gulf Coast officials said that they will soon establish a fund to benefit the two daughters, whom police did not name. Those wishing to contribute to the fund should call Gulf Coast at (727) 538-7150.

The police said they were aware of a 2002 case in Pennsylvania in which Sean Ray had been accused of attempted murder of Tatrai- Ray. A story in the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review reported that she had been separated from Sean Ray for six months when she went to return a key to him. He forced her into his apartment, beat her with a baseball bat and she escaped by jumping from a third-floor balcony. She was hospitalized and spent several months in rehabilitation. Charges against Ray were dropped when she refused to testify, the Tribune-Review reported.

Soon after that she moved to Florida and began work at Gulf Coast, where she had a distinguished career. She served as Chief Operating Officer (COO) for many years, then earlier this year was named Chief Executive Officer (CEO).

As news of her death spread, the Gulf Coast board issued a statement. “This is an unthinkable time for our Gulf Coast family and we ask that Rochelle’s daughters and family be kept in the prayers, hearts and minds of all who are in range of this story. Her loss is unimaginable and it will be felt by our entire staff, our board of directors, our funders and anyone who knew her.”

At the same time, the circumstances of her death prompted the board to comment on the issue of domestic violence:

“We know that Rochelle, through her helping nature, would want us to encourage any victim who is experiencing domestic violence which begins with verbal threats, to seek help immediately. In Pinellas County, the number to call is (727) 895-4912, in Hillsborough County the number is (813) 247-7233 and elsewhere in the state call 1-800 500-1119. There is 24 hour help available so please do not delay.”

Gulf Coast was established more than 50 years ago and provides essential services to the needy and vulnerable, offering social service assistance through 60 different programs – many of them nonsectarian, such as mental health counseling, employment assistance and aid for the elderly. The agency covers a 32-county service delivery area in Florida. In Pinellas and Pasco counties, in addition to its other programs, the agency has family service programs for the Jewish community.

Those who worked with Tatrai- Ray praised her.

“Rochelle touched every life of every employee at Gulf Coast. As COO she supervised all of the directors and was involved in all of the programs as a hands-on person,” said immediate past board chair Barbara Sterensis, who said she worked with Tatrai-Ray for more than 10 years.

“She was a loving wonderful employee who came to work every day with her ‘A Game,’” Sterensis said, adding, “She just was a remarkable human being who truly cared about our clients. She was always thankful for the volunteers and employees at Gulf Coast and will be missed by Gulf Coast and personally missed by many people. She left the organization in the strongest position it has ever been.”

Sterensis said Tatrai-Ray had been a single-parent for a longtime. “She was a wonderful parent, always there for her two girls and managed to fit everything in her day in a positive way – she always had a smile and a good thing to say to others.”

Sterensis said she was aware that Tatrai-Ray had had issues with Sean Ray and said they had not been together for many years.

Another longtime Gulf Coast board member, Rabbi Gary Klein of Temple Ahavat Shalom in Palm Harbor, said that Tatrai-Ray had once told him she had been a victim of spouse abuse, but he did not know the details of it.

“Every time I interacted with her, I could not help but be impressed by her intense compassion for those in need and her incredible wisdom and unbelievable energy,” Rabbi Klein said “She worked incessantly on behalf of Gulf Coast and its clients. I saw her shed tears at the sight of others suffering and then immediately focus on what she and the agency had to do for those people.

“I was also impressed by her leadership ability, which was primarily due to her great respect for everyone with whom she worked … and by her beautiful love for her two daughters.”

Current Gulf Coast board chairman Jay Miller described her as “a true humanitarian and a tireless advocate to help those in need whether they were Holocaust survivors, the mentally handicapped, victims of torture, or refugees … She helped grow our organization from $15 million to $40 million in annual revenues and services and she was loved and respected not only by her clients but by the 500-plus employees in the agency.”

He said that while Tatrai-Ray was not Jewish, she certainly embraced our customs and values

Shortly after assuming the role of CEO, Tatrai-Ray argued strongly when Gulf Coast asked Pasco County officials to approve doubling the capacity of the agency’s 16-bed shelter for child immigrants. At the time child refugees from Central and South America were flooding into the country and some Pasco residents were loud in their opposition to expansion of the shelter.

“These are children and they’re scared,” she told the Tampa Bay Times. “If people had better perception and knowledge of the situation, they’d feel better, I think.”

In the Times story, she said, “I personally went and spent some time with the kids and they are so sweet — the sweetest, kindest kids. They’re very timid and quiet and fearful, and that’s why I get so emotional about it. When you see them, you feel differently. They’re children. They’re innocent children.”

Gulf Coast officials said Tatrai- Ray had specific expertise in child welfare best practices as she provided implementation and oversight of the agency’s child protection services; diversion, intervention, and safety services; and foster care licensing.

When she was named CEO, officials said she was instrumental in shaping the Harvey Hertz Jewish Family Services Center, established a community-wide advisory council and expanded collaborations with the Florida Holocaust Museum, local synagogues and Jewish organizations. She also “had significant success in securing major individual gifts and foundation awards. She has a strong sense of relationship building and nurturing supporters of the agency,” officials said.

As of press time, funeral arrangements had not been announced.

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