Geraldine “Gerry” Kimber Rayford, eldest child and daughter of the late Walter Lee and Betty Cropps Kimber, was born on June 12, 1928, in Boonville, N.C. She graduated from Yadkin County High School as valedictorian. She completed a Bachelor of Arts degree in English and Drama from Bennett College in Greensboro, North Carolina, and did further study at the University of Maryland and George Washington University in Washington, D. C., specializing in Reading. She later earned a Master of Science Degree and certification in Educational Administration from the University of Houston in Clear Lake, Texas. She only needed to complete her dissertation for her doctorate degree.
Gerry was raised in the small country town of Boonville along with two brothers, Howard (Pauline) Kimber, Albert (Pauline) Kimber, and one sister, Marilyn Scales (Bobby) all of whom preceded her in death. Geraldine professed a belief in Christ at an early age and joined the Boonville Presbyterian Church where her father was Sunday School Superintendent and her mother was the Church’s musician.
She later joined the Missionary Baptist denomination with her husband, Dr. Phillip “Phil” Rayford, whom she met during their college years. When they moved to Little Rock in 1981, she and Dr. Rayford united with Mt. Pleasant Missionary Baptist Church where she remained a member until death.
She worked diligently, and in the history of Mt. Pleasant, which was established in 1875, was one of the first of two women to be elected to serve on its Board of Trustees and to serve as the Church’s Stewardship Chairperson. She also sang in the choir and served as a Sunday School teacher. Gerry remained steadfast in her faith until her death.
Mrs. Rayford enjoyed a long working career. She served as a classroom teacher in a number of schools in the United States and for two years, taught school in Accra Ghana, West Africa. She held several key administrative positions in various school systems and educational centers. Prior to coming to Little Rock, she was the Director of the Early Childhood Education for the Galveston Texas School District. She also served as Director of Youth Programs in Washington, D. C. It was in Galveston where she was honored by the mayor and city council by a proclamation with the honor of “Geraldine Rayford’s Day.”
In Little Rock, she was employed at the University of Arkansas Medical Sciences (UAMS) as Educational Director for Children’s Hospitalization programs; Educational Director for the Department of Pediatrics’ Infant Health Development Research Program; and as an instructor and school consultant for local public schools for the Department of Psychiatry before her official retirement from UAMS in 1996.
During Gerry’s professional career, she touched the lives of many children, youth and young adults. She and Dr. Rayford often served as mentors and surrogate parents to students at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences. Her defining message as we entered the 1990s was: “It is time for us, in this decade of the 1990s, to realize that God has something for each of us to do. We can make a difference when we chose to help open the doors of opportunities to our youth. There is no limit to how much can be done by caring individuals.”
Gerry’s affiliations are numerous. Prominent among these are her Golden Life membership in Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Incorporated, Little Rock Alumnae Chapter (LRAC), and a member of the Delta Tones, the musical group of LRAC.
Actively involved in numerous civic and community organizations, Gerry served as president of Little Rock Alumnae Chapter from 1987-1991. After leaving that office, she chaired numerous committees over the years and was an ever-present force on the Housing Committee, and a trailblazer in helping Little Rock Alumnae Chapter to reach its goal of finding a homeplace for its meetings and activities. In 2008, Geraldine became the first Chairman of the Delta Presents Outreach Foundation which under its 501 (c) 3 status was able to purchase the former Rosedale Baptist Church, in 2011. Since then the building has served as headquarters of the Foundation and home of Little Rock Alumnae Chapter. At the mortgage burning service on April 26, 2019, Gerry was established as Chairman Emeritus of the Delta Presents Outreach Foundation, Incorporated.
She was also a “Platinum, the highest membership level” member of the Little Rock Chapter of The Links, Incorporated, and served in all positions of leadership including chapter president. She also volunteered her time by visiting nursing home patients and worked with Volunteers in Public Schools, Advocates for Children and Families, and LifeQuest of Arkansas. Other organizational affiliations included: The American Association of University Women and The National Council of Negro Women. She served on the Executive Boards of Arkansas Advocates for Children and Youth Homes, Inc. where she served as secretary; Volunteers in Public Schools (VIPS); the Women’s Council of African American Affairs; The Daisy Bates Scholarship Foundation Board, and The Bates Scholarship Selection Committee. She served as president of the Arkansas Retired Senior Volunteer Program (RSVP). Gerry received numerous recognitions for her services and leadership, some of which included: recipient of the Delta of the Year Award in 1989; the prestigious Senator David Pryor Award from CareLink for outstanding work as an “educating woman” on October 23, 2008; Teacher of the Year, International School of Ghana, West Africa; Citizen of the Year, Fort Stanton Civic Association, Washington, D. C.; State of Arkansas Women of
Distinction Award; Jane Mendel Award for Outstanding Volunteer Service in Little Rock Public Schools; and the Kappa Delta Pi Honorary Society in Education.
She was married to Dr. Phillip Leon Rayford, who preceded her in death, a nationally celebrated scientist and healthcare pioneer who retired as UAMS Emeritus Professor of Physiology and Associate Dean. They traveled the world together during their lifetimes including travel to six of the seven continents of the world. During her lifetime, she made presentations on early childhood education to national and international audiences including Africa, Asia, Europe, Australia, North and South America. At death, Antarctica remained on her bucket list.
Geraldine “Gerry” Kimber Rayford departed this life on Monday, November 22, 2021, at her home with her loving and devoted adopted son and caregiver at her bedside.
Survivors are their adopted son, Tracy Fortman; a niece, Terri Edwards; and a nephew, Mark Kimber, both of Fresno, Calif.; and nieces Denise, Leslie, Stephanie, Sherri, and Gina Kimber; cousins, other relatives; and many, many loyal and dedicated friends.
The funeral service is scheduled for Friday, December 3, 2021, at 11 a.m., Mount Pleasant Baptist Church, Daisy L. Gatson Bates Drive and Ringo Street, Little Rock, Ark. 72202, Rev. James Slater, presiding. The service will be streamed live on the Mount Pleasant Facebook Page. The Omega Omega Service for Mrs. Rayford will be conducted by the Little Rock Alumnae Chapter of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc. at Mt. Pleasant at 10 a.m. preceding the funeral service. While the services will be conducted in person, safety protocols for COVID-19 will be enforced.
Walk-through visitation will be held Thursday, December 2, 2021, 12 noon to 5 p.m., at Ruffin & Jarrett Funeral Home, 1200 Chester Street, Little Rock, Ark. 72202. (501)372-1305. Masks are required at all services. Social spacing is observed.
In lieu of flowers, persons moved to do so, may send memorial donations to The Delta Presents Outreach Foundation at P. O. Box 24636, Little Rock, Ark. 72221.