DES MOINES, Iowa -- Governor Robert D. Ray courageously welcomed hundreds of Tai Dam refugees to Iowa in the 1970s when they left their home country at the end of the Vietnam War.
"They were trying to find freedom and nobody else raised their hand. But Bob Ray did, and said, 'we’ll take some,'" said Governor Ray's former Chief of Staff Dave Oman. "They were legal immigrants. They came here. He literally saved people’s lives. And they enriched our culture and made our state a little more diverse. They never forgot it, and a lot of Iowans feel it was one of the best moves he ever made."
The Tai Dam community said the former governor opened his door and his heart at a time when they needed it the most.
“Governor Ray, he’s one of the great governors. He’s a compassionate governor and had a really good heart to bring people, Tai Dam, as a group. We are a nuclear family and we don’t want to go to many different places. We want to stick together. It’s the only state, Iowa, who accepted the Tai Dam refugees as a group,” Tai Village President Thomas Baccam said.
Oman said Ray was a moral leader and wasn’t always focused on doing the right thing politically.
“When people were dying, he said we’ve got to help. And he reached to churches, local elected officials, mayors, business people, and the press, and everybody said, you know this is the right thing to do for people. We can do this in Iowa and we can not only do the right thing, we can be a leader,” Oman said.
Baccam said they honored Governor Ray by dedicating the Tai Village Welcome Center to the late leader.
“He worked hard for all Iowans, not just refugee people. I can say he is a champion for refugees and cared for those people who needed it most at that time during the Vietnam War,” Baccam said.
He said the Tai Dam community is grieving the loss of their dear friend and leader, but his legacy will live on in their families forever.
“He has to go and everyone has to go. It’s sad," Baccam said. "We lost one of the great governors, one of the great leaders."