Scientist, community leader Lane Bray dies

Lane Bray’s mother wanted him to stay close to home in Illinois and work as a leather chemist.

But his father thought he should go west — and the young Lake Forest College graduate agreed.

He took his chemistry training and went to work at the Hanford site, beginning a long and lauded career in science and public service.

He was a “next-door neighbor kind of person, but with a brilliant mind,” said Gary Petersen, vice president of federal programs for the Tri-City Development Council, or TRIDEC.

In the early days of Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, where Bray worked for years, “there were some true giants of science, and Lane was among them,” Petersen said.

Bray died early Wednesday after a short illness. He was 86.

When he first came to town, Bray lived in a men’s dorm at Jadwin Avenue and Swift Boulevard and rode the Hanford bus for 5 cents to work at the Plutonium Finishing Plant.

He worked in that building for four years, and then switched to another laboratory before being drafted and serving two years in the Army, his obituary said.

Upon his return to the Tri-Cities, he married Gwen Moore, the daughter of his co-worker Darlene.

He spent decades in chemistry separation research.

“In 1990, Lane and Dr. Earl Wheelwright were asked by (the Department of Energy) to separate and isolate highly purified Yttrium-90 for possible shipment to the medical community for cancer research,” his obituary said. Bray helped produce Y-90 that was shipped around the world and “patented the (DOE/PNNL) process for purifying medical grade Yttrium-90 that was successfully commercialized in 1999.”

He also worked on separating and isolating other potential medical isotopes, the obituary said.

After retiring, he developed and patented a separation process for purifying Cesium-131, and he and some co-workers started IsoRay Medical. The company makes radiochemical “seeds” used in cancer treatment.

Nancy Oten, one of Bray’s four children, said that was his proudest accomplishment in research development.

Not long after the patent came through, Bray was treated with the seeds for his own prostate cancer, and “(they) took care of it for him,” Oten said.

Bray also believed in another kind of public service.

He spent 19 years on the Richland City Council, including four as mayor, and he was the state’s 8th District representative for four years in the early 1990s.

He was named Tri-Citian of the Year in 1988, praised as a leader who “stands above most others.”

Neal Schulman, who was Richland’s city manager, described Bray in a nominating letter as someone who “follows the dictates of his conscience without succumbing to political pressure, and who is admired by all for bringing ethics and morality to his work.”

Bray’s daughter Judy Klein said he didn’t like the limelight, preferring to carry out his good works behind the scenes.

In his speech at the awards banquet, he told the crowd, “I’m not the Tri-Citian of the Year. You are, for thinking about what the Tri-Cities’ future will be like and being willing to work for it.”

Jack Briggs, a retired Tri-City Herald publisher, said Wednesday that Bray was a “quiet gentleman” who got things done.

“As a city councilman and representative, he was a staunch supporter of the Tri-Cities,” Briggs said.

He also was a loving father to his four kids, including Oten, Klein, daughter Joisan Elia and son Eric Bray.

He taught them to grow plants and garden, about the value of education and the importance of public service, Oten and Klein said.

“He was always insistent that the way we would be great citizens was to be helping other people,” Klein said. “That’s what he told us to do — to make a difference.”

Along with his wife and kids, Bray’s survivors include four grandchildren and one great-grandson.

A celebration of life is planned at 11 a.m. Sept. 12 at West Side Church in Richland, where Bray was an elder.

Sara Schilling: 509-582-1529; sschilling@tricityherald.com; Twitter: @SaraTCHerald