By Jackson Moseley
Buddy Wayne Rayle is woken up at 6:30 a.m. by his pit bull, Amber, whose energy reminds Rayle of the vigor that he once had in his youth. He makes his way to the kitchen, puts on a pot of decaf coffee and gets ready for the day. After dressing himself, Rayle scrambles a couple of eggs with margarine, sprinkling in a handful of cheese.
The house is small — and over 100 years old — but comfortable. It sits tucked away on a plot of land in Haw River, North Carolina, next to a few other vacant houses. Rayle has done what he can to make it feel like a home.
After breakfast, Rayle takes Amber to a private dog park a couple of miles away, watching her run without a leash on the five-acre plot of land. He used to take her here every morning, but his recent spells of vertigo have forced him to scale back on the number of times he goes out of the house.
After taking Amber to the dog park, Rayle drives back home and puts on the TV in the living room once he gets back. Later that day, the landlord’s children stop by to chat with him. They enjoy listening to his stories and playing with Amber as much as he enjoys their company.
This is a typical day for Rayle. It’s lonely at times, but that has never stopped him from seeing the best out of his situation. In fact, seeing the best out of his situation is something that Rayle has been forced to do over the years.
The monotony of his daily routine belies the wild roller coaster of life experiences that Rayle has undergone. From growing up dirt-poor on a farm to making $1 million a year, Rayle has done it all.
A modest beginning
Known as Buddy to family and Wayne to just about everybody else, Rayle was born on February 6, 1939, on a farm in Guilford County, North Carolina, not terribly far from where he lives now. Since his family lived nowhere close to a hospital, he was delivered by his grandmother.
Rayle lived on a farm until he was 14 years old. For most of his childhood, there was no electricity and no plumbing. Only vast stretches of grass and, on that, the ragtag building that the Rayles called home. Without any friends nearby, Rayle had to make his own fun. He enjoyed adventuring in the woods with his pocket knife and the slingshot that he had designed using a tire innertube.
The smells of fresh air, grass, trees, and biscuits cooking in the morning. The sweltering heat in the middle of the summer. The buzzing of flies in the house as a result of the windows being down. These are all sensations that defined Rayle’s childhood.
Around Christmas time in 1954, the Rayle family moved to the edge of the city, where Rayle’s father had gotten a job at a service station.
That year, Rayle felt like something of a misfit. While all the other kids showed up to school wearing penny loafers and khaki pants, he had only his washed-out farming blue jeans. His parents couldn’t afford to buy anything else, so Rayle got a job delivering newspapers in the city.
From farming blue jeans to caps and gowns
Rayle’s father had dropped out of school after the seventh grade. His mother, the third grade. Despite his parents’ lack of education, Rayle graduated second in his class, never having missed a single day of school, and he was just as successful in his social life as he was in academics.
Mable Lane, one of Rayle’s friends from elementary and high school with whom he has kept in contact over the years, said that while Rayle was shy and reserved in elementary school, he was very outgoing and friendly in high school.
In addition to being class president, Rayle was on the basketball team and was a member of numerous clubs. But of all his extracurriculars, it was the drama club that left the greatest impact on Rayle. He hadn’t even thought of joining it until his English teacher, Miss Dixie Guill, who doubled as the drama teacher, approached him one day in the tenth grade and convinced him to join the club.
About a year after he joined the club, Miss Guill approached him one day after class and asked him about his plans for college.
“I’ve never thought about college,” he said.
“Well, Wayne, you’ve got to go to college,” she said. “We’re going to start applying.”
And there was no use in convincing her otherwise. She started applying to colleges for Rayle, and he was accepted into five different schools.
Rayle decided to go to Guilford College, which offered him a scholarship that would cover his tuition. He married his high school sweetheart in June after she graduated high school, the summer after his freshman year of college. They had two children together.
Rayle graduated college with a degree in economics and minors in history and religion. Over the next few decades, he worked for several insurance companies and, despite a few setbacks, enjoyed a great degree of success in his career, receiving promotion after promotion.
Fortitude in the face of uncertainty
However, Rayle did not experience that same level of success in his marriage. His first marriage ended in divorce after six years. He married again and had two more kids, but that marriage lasted only eight years. He married a third time and had two more kids, and this marriage seemed like it might last.
Rayle started his own insurance agency in Columbia, South Carolina, in 1980. The company, and Rayle himself, enjoyed great success. Soon enough, he was making $1 million a year. He and his family lived in a nice house in a country club neighborhood with a pool in the backyard. On top of that, he owned two beach houses and even started construction on a mountain house by the lake.
Unfortunately, that period of success ended when Hurricane Hugo struck in 1989. Businesses that his agency insured were destroyed up and down the East Coast. The company that he worked with couldn’t pay their losses, so Rayle eventually had to close the insurance agency and declare bankruptcy. This, along with other factors, led to his third and final divorce.
After this, Rayle hopped around from job to job, but he never kept one particular job for very long, and he never again made nearly as much money as he once did. Eventually, he retired in 2017 at the age of 78.
Rayle has lived in his current house since October. The pandemic has only amplified his loneliness, but he still keeps in contact with old friends. Every few months, Cheryl Raiford, the woman he has been seeing since 2004 whom he describes as the love of his life, comes to visit him from Charlotte, North Carolina.
Jerry Blake, one of Rayle’s friends from high school who recently reconnected with him, said that Rayle’s internal fortitude was one of his defining characteristics. That fortitude, Blake said, allowed Rayle to push through difficult, dark times and to return to a stable and happy situation in life.
And perhaps there is no better word than fortitude to describe Rayle.
Edited by Montia Daniels