The many lives of Don Raye
The former MBTA president and Transportation Achievement winner takes it outdoors
By Kathryn Buxton
Don raye has stopped by the headquarters of CCB, Inc., in Westbrook with a mission. He is beginning to clean out the office he has occupied for the past several years as an owner at CCB.
Today is the day of the company holiday breakfast, and even though he officially retired earlier in the year, he’s been enlisted to serve as chief elf and charged with distributing presents. There are gag gifts, inside jokes and, of course, lots of laughter, and it is quickly evident how happy his former employees are to see him.
Raye began work at CCB in 2002, when he joined the company as its vice president of finance. Two years later, Raye bought the company with Beth Sturtevant. The two ran the company together with Sturtevant as majority owner for seven years.
His job at CCB was in many ways a new professional life for Raye, one of several career shifts in a remarkably varied path. He has, by his own reckoning, had four distinct careers: in finance, construction, community service and as an entrepreneur.
“I never had any kind of master plan,” said Raye. “But I did find that big things can happen from small decisions.”
Born to Carolyn Bradish Raye and Wadsworth “Wad” Raye, Don grew up in Eastport and Brunswick, Maine.
The Rayes have been a large presence in Maine for several generations, and he feels a strong debt to his father and grandfather for his own ability to adapt and thrive in life. He calls his father “one of the smartest men there ever was.” Wad Raye was an artist, musician, engineer and businessman who worked alongside Don’s grandfather at the family’s mustard mill in Eastport.
Young Donald, with the blessing of his father, early set his sites on a career in the Maine woods, but after a year at the University of Maine in Orono, he determined there weren’t many jobs to be had in forestry. He transferred to the Portland Business College with the goal of eventually returning to Eastport to work with his father at the mustard mill. Don graduated in 1965, and after talking it over with his father, made one of those small-decision-big-change decisions.
“We talked and he thought it would be good for me to get some experience with someone else before I went back to work at the mustard mill,” said Raye.
That “someone else” turned about to be the southern Maine accounting firm now known as Macdonald Page & Co LLC, where Raye soon found he had a knack for accounting.
So began Raye’s first professional life in the world of finance. At Macdonald Page, Raye honed his business skills and developed an expertise in auditing and taxation.
“I found out that I was not only good at it, I liked it,” he recounted. Between 1965 when he joined the firm and 1972, Raye established a flourishing clientele in the banking industry, and quickly moved up the company ladder becoming senior manager responsible for audits and tax returns for many Maine banks. He earned his CPA designation (Certified Public Accountant) in 1972.
The second major professional shift for Raye came in 1973, when he joined the accounting firm of Houde and Boucher in Brunswick. He worked there for 16 years, becoming a partner in the firm. When he became a partner, he earned a place on the marquee – Houde, Boucher, Perkins & Raye. In a sense, Raye believes that was his second professional life. At the Brunswick firm’s office, he built a specialty working with clients in the construction industry.
“I liked the people in construction. So much of my early career was in finance and financial management and that was more litigious and what I would call ‘defensive’ accounting,” said Raye. By contrast, working with construction firms – many of them smaller, family owned businesses – was like taking in “a big breath of fresh air.” Perhaps because he grew up in a family of entrepreneurs, he could identify with the struggles of these hardworking business people.
“It was a thrill working with small contractors and helping them grow and prosper,” said Raye. “It was much more satisfying professionally.”
Raye left the accounting business in 1989 to join Bancroft Contracting as vice president of finance. Just 13 years later, Don Starr, head of another construction firm, CCB, Inc., tapped him to take over as his firm’s head of finance. Two years later, Raye purchased the firm with business partner Beth Sturtevant. This marked Raye’s third major career change, as co-owner of a major construction company, a role he remained in until 2011 when he officially retired.
Raye’s fourth professional incarnation came in 1980, when Al Prince recruited him to join the board of the Maine Good Roads Association (the forerunner organization of the Maine Better Transportation Association). The organization was in a tough spot. Maine and the world were on the edge of a global recession at the time. Unemployment was on the rise, and the state’s construction industry was suffering. Maine Good Roads was facing serious problems, and Raye’s financial expertise proved invaluable.
“The organization clearly had financial challenges. It was just a matter of dressing it up and getting it better at managing its own finances,” said Raye with characteristic modesty. With the help of Raye and his fellow board members, Maine Good Roads secured a bank loan to see the organization through, and developed a budget and financial plan.
The organization emerged from the reorganization in 1983 with a new name (Maine Better Transportation Association) and a newly expanded mission – advocating not only for roads and bridges, but also rails, trails, marine and aviation. Raye continued his service on the MBTA board for 25 more years, and served as president of the organization from 1985 to 1986.
His inaugural message as president in Maine Trails, underscored Raye’s belief in the power of community activism: “I believe that organizations such as ours are critical in the political process to ensure that the viewpoint of concerned citizens and businessmen are represented. We can make a difference. The voice of MBTA is well respected by lawmakers and officials alike. . . The strength of our voice is dependent on a strong and active membership. Our message should be a clear, concise, well thought-out reflection of our views.”
Raye’s lasting impact as a leader of the transportation community also can be seen in the work he undertook to help establish the MBTA Educational Foundation. While the MBTA and Maine Good Roads had awarded transportation scholarships for years, Raye saw the value in formalizing the process. He and several other foundation board members helped establish the foundation as a tax-exempt organization and inspired fellow members to contribute to a scholarship fund that has grown from a few thousand dollars in the early 1990s to more than $350,000 today.
“Don’s role at MBTA has been a critical one,” said MBTA Executive Director Maria Fuentes. “He just gets it. He understands the role that transportation has in the state’s economy and has always urged us as an organization to leverage our members’ considerable leadership capital to advance the industry and the state.” Don’s tireless work with the organization and on behalf of the transportation industry was recognized in 2008 when he was honored with the Maine Transportation Achievement Award.
In addition to his work with the MBTA, Don has served on the board of the Construction Financial Management Association and AGC Maine. He has been a trustee of the AGC’s education foundation. He also has been president of the Norway-Paris Kiwanis Club, a trustee of Norway Public Library, a corporator of Norway Savings Bank, and a founder and president of the Growth Council of Oxford Hills.
When Raye began planning the move into the newest phase of his life, he did it with characteristic forethought. He trimmed his hours at CCB by half and rented a winter home in Lakeland, Florida with his wife Verna. From there, he telecommuted between 10 and 30 hours per week for CCB. He also played more golf and he and Verna became regulars at Detroit Tigers games during spring training.
When warm weather returned to the northeast, he and Verna headed back to their home in Norway, Maine – and to their beloved lakeside camp in Perry. “It’s great to take more time to hunt and fish and not have to feel guilty about it,” said Raye. He admitted that, while he and Verna had been tempted by exceptionally favorable Florida real estate prices, they were committed renters for now. Besides, he said “my soul and true love is in eastern Maine.”
A born leader, Raye already has organized hunting and fishing outings for friends and family – on the Allagash and in Alaska. He is known for his skill with a frying pan and typically serves as breakfast cook on the outings. Raye also has his sights set on other destinations, including Prince Edward Island, western Virginia and Colorado.
His transition to what he views as his “fifth job” has been all the more successful due to his personal philosophy – which is to approach everything he undertakes with a commitment to doing the job right.
“You have to be proactive about your happiness and personal life the same way you do with your work,” said Raye.