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Funds are earmarked for students who have lost a parent to cancer
Martha Nell Flaherty Ray

Though Martha Nell Flaherty Ray lost her battle to cancer at the young age of 52, her memory and dedication to education will live through a gift from her sons, Ken Ray and Van Ray, in the form of the Martha Nell Flaherty Ray Scholarship Endowment at the University of Mississippi.

“Our goal in establishing this scholarship is to reflect and model the nurture, support, value for education and community responsibility that our parents, and the Pontotoc community provided to us during and after our Mother’s illness, and to assist deserving students, particularly those from Mississippi, who face challenges similar to those Van and I faced when we were pursuing our degrees,” said Ken Ray of Long Valley, N.J.

This new scholarship has been created with an initial $25,000 gift and is earmarked to help Ole Miss students whose parents have fallen victim to cancer.

Martha Nell passed away in June 1981, a year after Van Ray received an undergraduate degree in business from Ole Miss, and just before Ken entered Ole Miss as a freshman. While the loss of their mother presented hurdles to completing their college studies, Van and Ken both earned bachelor’s and graduate degrees from Ole Miss and went on to successful careers.

“Our parents modeled the values of leadership and service in the community and did so simply because it is the right thing to do,” said Van, who lives in Yazoo City, Miss. “Despite losing our mother early in life, the values Martha Nell gave us prepared us to be independent and successful, despite the inevitable challenges we face in life.”

Martha Nell supported efforts for reading programs at the Pontotoc County Library, and both Martha Nell and her husband, Raymond, were church and community leaders and regular boosters at school events. She was always there for those who needed her but did so quietly and without any desire for recognition, her sons recounted.

However, the generosity displayed by the Ray family will undoubtedly change lives and shape the future for incoming UM freshmen.

In a letter sent to the Ray brothers earlier this year, then Chancellor Dan Jones wrote, “Your support enables us to challenge students, broaden their perspectives, and give them the preparation needed to help them reach their full potential. Thank you for your extraordinary dedication to Ole Miss and our students.”

The Martha Nell Flaherty Ray Scholarship will be available to incoming freshmen from Mississippi, with preference being given to those from Pontotoc County.

Those interested in making a gift to the Ray Scholarship Endowment can send a check with the fund noted in the memo line to the University of Mississippi Foundation, 406 University Ave., Oxford, MS 38655; or online at For information about establishing a scholarship, contact the University of Mississippi Foundation at (662) 915-5944.

Kelly Savage


Online gifts for the 2024 calendar year should be made no later than noon on December 31, 2024.  Checks by mail will need to be postmarked by December 31 to be counted in the 2024 calendar year.