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Saturday, December 28, 1996 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Roland Pray, 87, Serious Architect Who Loved Family, Clam-Digging

Seattle Times Staff Reporter

To many who knew Roland G. Pray, he seemed stern.

A man of few words, Mr. Pray, and the architectural firm he co-founded, designed buildings where the important work of society could be done: the King County Administration Building, the Snohomish County Courthouse, the State Office Building in Olympia, the University of Washington's general engineering building.

But there was another side to the man, past the serious exterior.

Mr. Pray also delighted in clam-digging with his grandchildren and had an adventurous streak that led him to live in a log cabin while working at Yellowstone National Park and to tour the nation in a vintage Ford.

"A lot of us were afraid of him because he was stern," said Mr. Pray's daughter-in-law, Marilynn Pray. "But once you got past (that), there was love. And if you could clam-dig, oh my!"

Mr. Pray died Monday, Dec. 23, of pneumonia. He was 87.

Born to a prominent family in Lake City, Iowa, Mr. Pray developed an early interest in architecture. He graduated with a degree in architecture from Iowa State College, where he met his future wife, Bernice.

The two kept their marriage a secret for a year because at the time, schoolteachers in Iowa were not allowed to be married. Bernice taught home economics at a school in Iowa. After their secret was out, the two took a three-month honeymoon, touring the U.S. in their Model A Ford.

For several years the couple lived in a log cabin in

Yellowstone park while Mr. Pray worked as head architect, designing the buildings in the park.

"For years, Bernice hauled water from the Yellowstone River," said Marilynn Pray. "He got so tired of watching Bernice do this that he designed the water system to pump water up to the camp."

After jobs that took the family to Montana, Texas and North Carolina, the family moved to Seattle in 1944. Mr. Pray first worked for Boeing, then the architectural firm NBBJ, before starting an architectural partnership called Harmon, Pray and Detrich in 1950.

The firm also designed the state archives and records center in Olympia, the Four Freedoms retirement home in North Seattle, Boeing testing and manufacturing facilities, and many condominiums. The firm dissolved in the 1970s.

In addition to his dedication to his job, Mr. Pray was also a committed family man, spending decades caring for his wife, who was in ill health, off and on, for about 40 years. She died in 1993.

Three times a year for many years, Mr. Pray would take off from the family home in Laurelhurst and gather the clan to go clam-digging at Copalis Beach near Aberdeen.

"That was the joy of his life - to take his family clam-digging," said Marilynn Pray. "Each new bride that came into the family, he taught to clam-dig."

Despite the money he made, "he was not a high-tech guy," she said. "There was a quietness to him. He drove old cars and wore old sweaters with holes in them. But he always wore a dapper hat."

In his unassuming way, Mr. Pray delighted in teaching younger generations. During the Depression, Mr. Pray taught construction skills to young people in the Civilian Conservation Corps.

He shared his wide-ranging intellectual interests - from birds to Native-American history to plant biology - with his children and grandchildren, and emphasized the importance of education.

"He's been such a great teacher of all of us," said his daughter, Mary Tax.

His patience and perseverance were inspirations to his granddaughter, Linda Cooley, who is a landscape architect with the state Department of Transportation.

"He was always having me draw," she said. "And he always drilled me on mathematics. Or we'd walk around the arboretum together, and he'd tell me the plant names. That's the way he lived. He was always interested in increasing his knowledge and sharing things."

Mr. Pray also is survived by his sister, Marion Pray Peterson, of Green Valley, Ariz.; his son, Roland Pray Jr. of Seattle; son-in-law, Ted Tax of Kirkland; six other grandchildren; and three great-grandchildren. A memorial is planned at St. Stephen's Episcopal Church in Laurelhurst at 3 p.m. Jan. 3. The service will be held in the chapel.

Copyright (c) 1996 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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