Born Athol Raymond Keft on May 19, 1936, Ray - as he preferred to be called - was the son of Albert and Edna Keft.
In order of seniority, he placed sixth on the 13-rung ladder of children.
Although born at Nowra hospital, Bega was Ray’s hometown and Frogs Hollow in particular was his sanctuary for more than 30 years.
Ray started school at Narooma in 1941 before moving to Bega with his family and attending Bega Primary School in 1944, followed by Jellat Jellat Public School and Bega High School.
His parents were dairy farmers in the Bega Valley during his youth, dairying at Jellat Jellat then Daisy Bank.
He knew his way around a dairy and, along with his brothers and sisters, helped his parents with the daily milking before and after school.
In 1956, Ray secured a job as a wardsman at Wentworthville Hospital in Sydney. It was while working at Wentworthville that Ray determined his career path would be in the health sector, and nursing in particular.
After applying to numerous hospitals, Kempsey District Hospital accepted Ray into their nurse training program in 1964.
He sat his nursing finals and graduated a fully-fledged nursing sister while employed at the Bega District Hospital in 1968.
Ray was to spend many hours and many years working at the Bega District Hospital. He loved his nursing role and formed many long-lasting friendships with his work colleagues that lasted until his death.
In 1971, the church called, Ray answered, and shortly thereafter found himself as a missionary in New Guinea. Traversing the landscape, Ray was very often the first white person that many of the local tribes people had ever seen.
Ray loved his work, loved the people, and became a respected elder to many of the clansmen. The Sunday Mirror paper on December 10, 1972 documented his two years in New Guinea and ran a story with photos of him.
Following his stint in New Guinea and the death of his father in 1976, Ray returned to Bega, residing with his mother at the family home in Illoura St, Tathra.
Ray resumed his nursing career at the Bega District Hospital and continued to work at the hospital until his final retirement in 1999.
Moving to his beloved Frogs Hollow in 1986, Ray found his sanctuary and filled it with his greatest love: animals.
No matter the size, all critters were welcome at his Frogs Hollow haven.
There were dogs and cats, geese and chooks, goats, sheep, a big old pig and a curious alpaca that loved to say goodbye to visitors with its head in the wound-down car window.
Ray would often talk of how he would open his front door of a morning and sitting on the steps would be a couple of bags of feed, a quick look over the fence and sure enough the flock of geese had increased overnight, or another critter had taken up residence in the shed.
His little ranch became the drop-in or drop-off centre for many an animal, big or small.
Ray developed a real passion for goats and it was not long before he was breeding and showing his herd.
A son of the Southern Cross, Ray’s star will forever shine brightly in the Milky Way and I will miss him greatly.Ray's nephew Stephen Keft
It was not uncommon for Ray to regularly take out the top prize for his goats at many local and interstate shows. In actual fact, Ray was one of the first to show goats at the Bega Show.
Ray nursed his ailing mum at Frogs Hollow from 1989 until her death in 1991. A fully trained and qualified nurse, he adored his mum and showered her with love, affection and the best care as her body grew week and succumbed to the ravages of a stroke.
Her passing greatly affected him, but his dwelling and all that dwelt there wrapped their hearts and souls around him and softened the impact.
Ray was to also nurse a younger brother Mervyn “Mick” for the final weeks of his life at Frogs Hollow in 1996.
Initially retiring from the Bega District Hospital in 1997, it was not long before Ray was drawn back to the day-to-day operations.
It started with casual shifts covering employees on leave, but eventually turned into full-time work with an almost daily run of accompanying the very sick and very injured from Bega to Canberra Hospital.
It was on one such run in 1993 that, upon arriving at Canberra Hospital, he received the news his eldest brother Kelvin was in the intensive care unit of the hospital having that day suffered a devastating stroke.
Ray sat by his brother’s bedside as that moment in time captured the final farewell between the two siblings.
Ray had many joys in his life. He loved cricket and he loved his football but, most of all, he loved cooking.
His rich fruit cake was a masterpiece and he lost count of the number of times his fruit cake took out the top honour at the local shows.
Not just the Bega and surrounding local shows either, Ray’s rich fruit cake won first place at the Sydney Royal and the Brisbane Royal year after year.
He was lauded as the first male cake-maker to win first place at the Sydney Royal in 2008.
Ray’s nephew Stephen Keft fondly remembered his uncle zooming around Bega in the late 1960s on his Honda 90 motorbike and double dinking him and his brother around the paddocks at Springvale.
“Ray was a frequent visitor to our house and we loved to see him,” Stephen said.
“When our father took a break from the dairy farm, Ray was there in an instant to help us with the milking.
“A son of the Southern Cross, Ray’s star will forever shine brightly in the Milky Way and I will miss him greatly.”
Ray died on August 1, 2018 at the old Pambula Hospital.
A very private person to the end, Ray is fondly remembered by his seven surviving brothers Neville, Bert, David, Maurice, Ron, Peter and Geoff, his two surviving sisters Shirley Campbell and Betty Ison, godson Raymond Campbell, as well as many extended family members, numerous lifelong friends and a large cache of former work colleagues.
Ray’s brother Peter Keft, nephew Stephen Keft and niece Maree Keft were the instigators of the memorial for Ray.
Seat to be unveiled in honour of Ray
In honour of Ray Keft’s many years of dedication and commitment to the Bega Valley nursing community, a memorial bench seat will be unveiled in the grounds of the South East Regional Hospital (SERH) on Saturday, September 22 at 2pm.
Family, friends and former work colleagues are invited to attend this special event.
Attendees are asked to gather at 1.45pm outside the front entrance to SERH.
The family wanted to thank the hospital and employees Symon Dam and Peter McViety for making this event possible.
The memorial bench seat will offer patients, visitors and staff the opportunity to sit back, relax and enjoy the surrounding views while, perhaps, taking a minute or two to reflect on the many dedicated and committed nursing staff that have served the Bega Valley community over many years, and those that continue to serve.