A First Class Gentleman
ometimes in life something happens that stops your world right in
its tracks….to a screeching halt! This past week my Dad, Ray
Sexton, passed away. He had a wonderful life at the age of 88,
soon to have been 89 on August 17th. With his health
deteriorating and doctors telling the family he simply wasn’t a
candidate for any type of surgery…..we all knew the end of his
remarkable journey was fast approaching here on earth, and a
new journey was going to begin in heaven. Losing one’s parents
is one of life’s toughest moments, but it is a hurdle we all have to
face. I want to share a few thoughts about my Dad, who was one
of the most amazing men who ever graced the planet! He was a
first class gentleman in every way, who literally chose a career
that brought joy and happiness to thousands of couples in many
towns in and around Indianapolis, Indiana. He taught ballroom
dancing like no one ever had before or since in large classes with
up to 50 couples in each class six to seven nights per week for
almost 40 years! On Aug 1st at the funeral services held in Las
Vegas for family and close friends each of his kids participated in
the eulogy. My brother Mike said, “To say our Dad was just a
dance teacher is like saying Babe Ruth was just a baseball player,
or Tiger Woods was just a golfer. Our Dad was simply the best at
what he did…….a pioneer, like an astronaut reaching out to a
world no one had ever entered yet!” Dad is a legend back in
Indiana for his unique and extraordinary ballroom class lessons he
taught. No one else ever did it before or after him at the level of
excellence our Dad did! Dad was in the army during WWII, and
was stationed in England.
Ray Sexton was so proud of his six children. Standing behind their Dad from LT
to RT is Mike, Tom, Lance, Stephanie, Rod, and Jeff. This photo was taken last
year at a family reunion in Las Vegas over at Mike's house. Having all the
children around made Dad so happy.
He had been teaching at Arthur Murrays in Indianapolis before joining the army, so they occasionally had Dad teach dancing to the GI’s for
recreation as periodically a truckload of English ladies arrived at the base.
It was inEngland where he learned International ballroom dancing on week-end leaves. In fact, he became the first American to be certified in the
BronzeStandard from overseas, which made the front page news in London. Dad during the week worked as a Morse code expert on the radio,
helping our planes land with no lights after returning from bombing missions during the war. When he returned home he knew what he wanted to do
for a living…..teach dancing. He continued at Arthur Murrays in Indianapolis, and later managed there, as well as Dayton, and Cincinnati, Ohio
simultaneously. From there in the early fifties he was asked to go to Santa Monica, California to manage Arthur Murrays.
(Left to Right) Dad first got married to Gloria in 1945, and they had two children: Tom and Mike. In the early 50's Dad remarried to another
wonderful lady, Beverly, who had four children: Jeff, Stephanie, Rod, and Lance. Here Dad and Bev are demonstrating a dance step at one of
their dance classes. After a divorce years later, Dad met Sandy Darnell. They were a true love story for 27 years, right up to the end of Dad's
journey on earth, and his beginning in heaven. Dad passed away July 31, 2008
Driving once through Las Vegas Dad was one of the fortunate ones who witnessed one of poker’s most legendary heads-up matches on the side
walk outside of Binions Horseshoe: Johnny Moss verses Nick the Greek. Millions passed back and forth and the match lasted 6 months. Finally at
the end, Nick the Greek lost and stood up and said, “Mr. Moss, I’m going to have to let you go.” Little did our Dad know then, that he would return
to live out his retirement in the town he loved…..Las Vegas his last 18 years, starting around 1990.
Once Dad moved out to Las Vegas to live out his later years, he loved to play poker. What a positive impression he left on the players, dealers,
and poker room managers! He was the most polite, well behaved player any of them had ever seen. The impact he left due to his congenial
personality was amazing! Almost every week I run into someone who always asks about Dad and how he is doing these days. The first 10 seconds
any one ever met him………..they just liked him. He always had a gift that so many are not blessed with. His class, eloquence, and style with that
contagious laugh of his made him one of their favorites. He was simply class from A to Z! I’ve had many dealers and poker room managers who
remembered Dad say, “Your Dad was the nicest man in the world…….What a dream job we would all have if all the customers were like your
Dad.” I’ve always been so proud of my Dad, just as my brothers and sister have our whole lives!
What many of the poker players didn’t know about Dad was what a legend he was back in Indiana where he taught his ballroom class lessons!
If his funeral was held 20 years earlier in his prime there would have been more people paying their respects than you might see for The President
of the United States. The difference he made for all of those couple’s lives through dancing is hard to measure. When couples learn how to dance
together their entire lives are richly enhanced. Very few people are fortunate to have a job their whole life that accomplishes this for others! Dad
was such an exceptional human being and an example for all of us to follow. How to treat other people is such an important lesson in life, and we
were fortunate to have the best teacher of all!
Dad wasn’t comfortable with the cost of dance lessons in the studios, as he had a dream to do what no one has ever done before: Start class
lessons and only charge $40 for an 8 week course. Can you imagine how lucky these couples were to take ballroom lessons from the Master of
Masters, meeting once per week for a two hour lesson over 8 weeks? That is only $5 per week for each couple! The social friends that were made
and the dances they would go to, with Dad offering them Course 1 through 8 with a fun variety of new steps, helping them become excellent
dancers along the way was the gift Dad gave them all.
Dad was famous in Indiana for holding some of the biggest and most successful big dances for his students. After all, he taught all over:
Bloomington, Columbus, Muncie, Shelbyville, Franklin, Seymour, Indianapolis, Brownstown, and South Bend. He also taught in many
Junior High Schools, High Schools and Colleges like Notre Dame, St. Mary’s of the Woods, Valparaiso University, Ball State, and of course
Indiana University. The most famous and biggest ballroom in Indiana was and still is The Indiana Roof in downtown Indianapolis. Dad’s dances
were so popular he would draw reservations from 27 – 30 States and 4 -6 Countries, combined with so many of his happy couples from nearby
towns that took his lessons. Dad’s dances were legendary at the Indiana Roof, as the details of the orchestra and music selection was always
overseen by Dad. He knew what everyone wanted. It was like when he taught his class lessons…….He would tell the students ahead of time, as
they listened with the guys on one side of the room and the ladies on the other…..here is where you are going to make your mistake, so let’s try it
now with partners. Sure enough at that precise moment of the step, where the students would inevitably get lost, Dad would laugh and stop the
music, as everyone would laugh with him. Then he would break it down and the students would start to really learn it.
He made it so much fun for all of them! Another genius technique Dad insisted on was rotating the guys up and down the line when the music
stopped to get another partner to lead. It not only improved the guy’s lead, but the ladies ability to follow the steps. Just as importantly, it allowed
the lesson to be a fun social happening at the same time……not just a dance lesson.
My Dad had brought Jim Banta into Arthur Murray’s many years ago, who became President of Arthur Murray’s. Jim brought in George Theiss,
who is President today. Jim and Dad were very good friends and worked together in the beginning. Jim couldn’t understand why so many students
would come to the office to trade in their private lessons purchased for any of the class lessons taught by Ray Sexton. This was unheard of, but it
was the beginning of what would be Dad’s calling in life. When Jim Banta was President of Arthur Murray’s he would sometimes fly down to a town
where Dad was teaching to watch the Master at work. He would take tedious notes on every word and move Dad made, trying to figure out
why he was the best class ballroom teacher they had ever seen! What was his secret? How did he do it?
One of Dad’s favorite things at his big dances he held, whether it was at the Indiana Roof, Bloomington, or that famous resort, French Lick, where
Larry Bird was from………was to have his own kids entertain his students at intermission at the dance. I am Dad’s oldest son, born in
1946, while Mike followed one year and twelve days later in 1947. We were two baby boomers for sure, and by 1960 we were the first to do dance
shows at a few of Dad’s dances. After high school in 1965, Mike went to Ohio State on a gymnastics scholarship, while I went to the University of
Oklahoma on one as well. As time went by, Dad would have us do a few shows in the 70’s and early eighties, when we all got together. As our
sister Stephanie and youngest brother Lance grew up, they quickly became the stars of the show for Dad’s dances, and how he enjoyed those
evenings. I can still see the smile on his face, as though it were yesterday. Mike and I could dance a little bit, but Stephanie and Lance are two of
the best dancers you’ll ever see in the world! Both have been professional dancers their whole lives. Stephanie won on that popular TV show
Dance Fever in the eighties and is the only one in the family to dance in the World Ballroom Championships in England. Today she is teaching
dancing in Florida, and dancing is and always will be her whole world. If you have ever seen Mike and I dance with Steph, we just hold on to her for
dear life……she is amazing! Lance has competed all over the United States and has won too many awards to mention here. Today he owns a
beautiful and very successful dance studio in Melbourne, Florida and has nine teachers who work for him.
Above at one of Dad's dances, pictured LT to RT is Rod, Mike,
Steph, Dad, Bev, Tom, and Lance. Looking back, it is easy to see
why every one had such a big smile on their face.....Dad's dances
were always fun! We all loved it when Dad danced an impromtu
dance himself, with all of his stops and hesitations. He was always
Mr. Silk on any dance floor.
Dad had a total of six children and was always so proud of each one and
their many accomplishments. Rod and Jeff both graduated from the
University of Indiana. Rod majored in business and has been very
successful in the furniture business his whole life. Today he lives in
Sacramento, California. Jeff went to Indiana on a full classical piano
scholarship, and has travelled the world as political envoy for the State
Department his whole career. In fact, he was at the Pentagon on the other
side of the building when that plane crashed into it from 911!
I recall going back in time to 1982, remembering how our family met for a re-
union at Bloomington, Indiana to enjoy one of Dad’s popular dances. Lance
and his professional partner simply put on a spectacular 8 dance
professional show that brought the house down! Believe me; no one would
ever want to have to follow that act! Mike and I were happy to watch our little
brother do his thing as we enjoyed several pretty strong drinks during the
show during his performance. After Lance was done with his show, Dad
said, “I know there are a lot of students here tonight who remember my two
oldest boys Tom and Mike, who used to perform for you. What do you say
we bring them out here impromptu to do a few dances for you for old time’s
sake with their sister Stephanie……? Would you like that?” Of course the
audience loved all of this, as we more or less got drafted to follow Lance’s
performance. Mike did four dances and I did four dances as Dad would
have us alternate each dance he asked us to do. For some reason when I
was doing the cha cha with Steph, I tried to recapture my youth and do a flip
in open position, like I used to be able to do in my younger days. Instead, I
fell right on my gluteus maximus! It was so hilarious and as I quickly got up
to continue the dance, I glanced over at Dad who laughed so hard, while he
slapped his knee and shook his head, watching us recover, breaking right on the two beat as though nothing had happened! Dad always had a
soothing answer that seem to fit in any situation, as he came over after my memorable exhibition that night and said, “Well Tom, for heaven’s
sake.” At many of our family reunions, Dad loved to show this film from the past, and I can hear him laugh now as I’m writing this.
In Dad’s life he found three wonderful ladies, who at different stages in his life, found himself married to each one. Around 1945, upon returning to
Arthur Murray’s after WWII in Indianapolis he met Gloria. She was the best teacher and dancer at the studio, and Dad was the best male dancer
and teacher. They fell in love and within two weeks got married. She was my mother and Mike’s and was stunningly beautiful. By the early fifties
they divorced and Mike and I were raised in Dayton, Ohio by Mom. We loved her very much, but always looked forward to taking the train over
to Indianapolis to visit Dad and his family with his other four children. As Mike and I got older we would drive over to see Dad and tumble and play
with the kids all week-end. Unfortunately our Mom passed away 20 years ago.
In the early fifties Dad met a beautiful lady on the outside and inside named Beverly, who was the mother of Dad’s other four children, Jeff,
Stephanie, Rod, and Lance. She was a loving good Mom who did a wonderful job raising the children. She also did many dancing exhibitions
with Dad and helped him with his classes for several years. After the kids grew up Dad and Bev separated and divorced. Today she lives in
Melbourne, Florida where Lance and Steph live. Bev has a lot of class and all of us love her very much. She has travelled to Las Vegas for many
family reunions, and has always been friends with Dad’s third wife, Sandy.It was 27 years ago when Dad met Sandy, and Dad was about 62, still
going strong teaching his classes. It isn’t often between the ages of 62 and 89 your Dad finds true love to complete a happy personal life………..
Dad was lucky to find Sandy. It was around 1989 when Dad slipped on some ice back in Indianapolis off the porch and cracked the back of his
head severely. Without brain surgery to relieve the pressure he would have died then. It was this accident that caused Dad to retire from teaching
any more dance classes. In 1990, they moved out to Las Vegas so Dad could enjoy these past 18 years in retirement. The first fourteen years
Dad loved playing cards and dancing with Sandy all over town. They got to see all the Vegas shows together, and it was always easy to see how
much they cared for each other every day. Dad’s last four years between 84 and 88 were more difficult as his health began to change. It
wasn’t easy to go out to play poker, as his hearing, sight and legs were losing a step or two. He stayed home a lot, and watched some TV the best
he could in his wheel chair. His favorite show of course was the World Poker Tour, where Mike has become a true celebrity as an announcer with
Vince Van Patton, now in their 7th season! Dad was always Mike’s number one fan when he competed in the World Series of Poker or anywhere
else. Later with health problems he would have to root for him at home. Mike deserves a lot of credit, as he told Dad to retire, stop working, and
come to Vegas to enjoy his retirement. From 1990 right up to 2008 Mike made it possible for this to happen, and our whole family is so grateful for
what he did for Dad! Thanks Mike.
I believe the true test of love comes when one is losing their health and the other half is there for them every step of the way. Our Dad was lucky
to have a wonderful woman in Sandy who was there for Dad right up to the end. She richly enhanced our Dad’s life, and I strongly believe without
her, Dad wouldn’t have had nearly the fulfilling life he did in his twilight years. Words will never be able to thank you enough Sandy. Those last 4
years Dad had another angel by his side to help him get through things day to day. Her name was Maria Gemma Flor Manansala, who was Dad’s
home care provider. We affectionately called her Gemma. She has a beautiful 18 year old daughter ready to go to college and an 11 year old
boy, named Brian Christopher. Her husband Cesar is lucky to have such a caring and wonderful wife. Our entire family can only say thank you for
the help you gave Dad those last four years of his life!
My ex-wife Janis came to my Dad’s funeral services to pay her respects, which meant so much to me. She loved my Dad and he loved her.
The day after the service I got an email from her I wanted to share part of with you:
I just wanted to tell you again how sorry I am that Ray is no longer with us. A small remembrance of your DadSandy and I had gone out to dinner
and then a show at the Orleans a few months ago. I dropped her off and then drove away, and before I got to the gate she called and asked if I
could come back. I thought something was wrong and she said no. Ray shaved and dressed up hoping you would step in for a visit. You know, I
turned around and spent almost two hours chatting with him and Sandy. He was always so sweet to me and I’ll always appreciate his genuine love
for me. I felt it a privilege to be able to call him Dad.
The Cab Is Parked,
(Note: A small service was held in Las Vegas at the Palms Mortuary on Jones on Aug 1st that remembered and paid tribute to Dad by family and
close friends. On Thusday, Aug 7th, there will be a viewing for Dad, followed the next day on Friday, Aug. 8th for a funeral service in Indianapolis,
Indiana. Dad is coming home. His wishes were to be buried in Indiana at the Elizabeth Town Cemetery a few miles north of Muncie. Both the
viewing and service will be held at Flanner and Buchanan Mortuary. The viewing Thursday will be between 5:00 PM - 7:00 PM. The funeral service
on Friday will be at 1:00 PM. at Broadripple Rd.)