A Mother's Day Tale
Accomplishment, Remembrance ...

Joan Emily Johnston Cray  was born July 20th 1935 and she passed away suddenly May 9th 2003 completely unexpected, of a cerebral hemorrhage at her home in Kinston, North Carolina.

Mother's Day 1997 - Lahaina, Maui

As Joan experienced her final moments, I was heading into my opening night performance as the “Phantom” half a world away on Maui. The Yeston / Kopit rendition of “Phantom” is based on the classic novel “Phantom of the Opera” by Gaston Leroux. On Maui, the musical, directed by John Langs, would be the biggest and most successful stage production ever mounted. The night before, Joan left a message on my cell phone voicemail telling me to “break a leg” and that she loved me. These would be the last words I ever heard my mother Joan speak to me.

The play tells a story that revolves around a mother’s love for her son, and his obsession with a women (Christine – played by Debra Lynn)

Debra Lynn, Jerry Eiting - Co-Founders
of Maui Civic Light Opera Company

...her voice and beauty reminds him of his mother, and his transcendence to his mother through his own death…

Erik is born with extreme facial deformity, His mother does not see it. She teaches him to see his inner beauty” Your mother thought your face was absolutely and flawlessly beautiful” Carriere says to Erik in the second act.

Joan was born and raised in Belhaven; a small river community in eastern North Carolina, the daughter of Lester and Dorothy Johnston.

Joan Johnston (Age 9)

Her father owned the local grocery business and her mother the toys and gifts store. She grew up believing her family owned the town. Her Uncle Bill was the Barber, Uncle Russell the Post Master, and her Father was also the Fire Chief .She was the Valedictorian of her High School Class, and everyone remembers her most infectious laugh. When she was three she was sent a grass skirt and Lei from her uncle Bob stationed at Pearl Harbor, HI.

Joan (Age 3)

 From that time she dreamed of a trip to Hawaii.

She was a Cub Scout den mother, a Tupperware Manager, when it was cool, managed my father’s photography studio, was a great photographer herself, and worked for 18 years as the credit manager of Brody’s Department Store. She loved to travel, loved lighthouses and the Outer Banks of her native state of North Carolina. Joan was dedicated to her family and children. She was a very loyal friend. Kinston was her home for over 45 years.

Joan was very ill in Duke Hospital at the time of my birth. I was premature and doctors thought they could lose us both. My Father and Grandparents were told it was very likely I would be born without fully developed lungs. Anyone witness to my performance of the “Phantom” on Maui some 40 years later, knows that the doctors were wrong about my prognosis.

Dickie Cray (Age 11)

During the six performances the weekend of Phantom, I wore several masks. One of the masks; a “Death Mask” was fashioned after an unusual looking seashell given to me by an artist friend who found it on a Maui beach.


The story behind the Death Mask is prophetic; it was the last mask to be completed and the first time it was worn was during the final dress rehearsal, the day Joan had suddenly taken ill.
Photo Credit: Richard Cray

I believe while I was giving the performances of my life “the light of my mother’s soul” was in my heart and in the hearts of everyone in the theatre that Mother’s Day weekend.
"When we are both from light and dark clouds free
and round the tent of God we both rejoice"

Maui entertainment critic Paul Janes-Brown wrote in the Maui News: “As the Phantom, Richard Cray tests the thesaurus to find enough superlative adjectives to describe the excellence of his work. He is a bona fide star”.

While I was on Maui; my brother Bob was in Kinston busy making decisions for our mother Joan, kept alive on life support for two days, so a surgical team could harvest her organs for transplant, according to her wishes if anything ever happened to her. While Joan’s body was busy back in Kinston; her spirit was with us in the Castle Theatre.

Joan’s untimely passing liberated her body allowing her spirit to bear witness to Phantom so far away. In Act two, Carriere played by Broadway actor Randl Ask, says to Erik,

Photo Credit: Gerald Barron

In you the light of the soul of your mother has shown”.
Randl’s Grand Mother also passed away on May 10th, 2003.

Soon after Joan’s passing, her liver and both of her kidneys were successfully transplanted. Around Christmas, Bob and I were contacted, by letter, from the wife of the man receiving her liver. She told how her husband had been given a second chance at life, was enjoying time with his two children and two grandchildren. He was so near death his own daughter gave him 55% of her liver on May 7 so he could live for four more days, to receive Joan’s gift on May 11, Mother’s Day, 2003.

Last Mother’s Day weekend, my mother, Joan Johnston Cray, shared her humanity with thousand of people. Many hearts and souls were lifted in the Maui Arts and Cultural Center by the presence of her spirit, through her life time of loving and nurturing me into a world class artist and more importantly into a compassionate loving human being.

Last Mother’s Day weekend my Mother shared her humanity through her youngest son. She was very proud of Bob, who was with her in Kinston making sure her wishes to be an organ donor would be honored.

Joan, Richard & Bob Cray

Through her sacrifices and nurturing I became a man, last Mother’s Day. Joan shared her humanity with thousands on Maui and profoundly changed the lives of the families she gifted with new light (life).
Richard Cray - May, 2003
Mask and Photo: Marianna Rydvald

If you ever wonder what to give your Mom for Mother’s day, Mom’s love it when you write to them. My Mom saved every letter and card I ever wrote to her. Including the very first note: “Dear Mom, I love you very much, and I would like to thank you in advance for anything I might get for Christmas”.
Joan Johnston (Age 16)

While at home in Kinston this past year I was going through the house and found hundreds of archives full of event notices, photos, letters, cards, programs and news articles. Among these precious moments of experience was a letter that recalled one special time in our life: The letter mused about my being at the North Carolina School of the Arts, when I called Mom one week and told her “I wanted to see an Opera, I’d never seen one” When she learned the New York City Opera was soon to perform the “Barber of Seville” at the Kennedy Center in Washington, she didn’t think twice, grabbed me from school and we both headed to DC for my first Opera. My premiere memory of this experience was hearing Samuel Ramey, now considered to be one of the greatest singers of the century. What an inspiration! I was a senior in High School. Thanks Mom.

In October 2004, while making my way back from Maui, I was lucky enough to hear Mr. Ramey’s 25 anniversary concert at the San Francisco Opera, I was invited to meet him after the show and spend some time with him. I asked him to sign the program to Joan. This program will be part of Mom’s time capsule.

In the final moments of ”Phantom” Erik dies in Christine’s arms, as he takes his last breath, Belladova, his mother as a young women, walks center stage to meet Erik as a young boy.

Amber Naramore (Belladova)
& Christian Holmes (young Erik)

She reaches out and slowly removes his mask, and we see the face of a beautiful young boy. The audience is able to see his face as she saw it, without flaw and radiating inner beauty.

At the time of Joan’s passing, I was living with every cell of my being, and being everything she ever wanted for me. It somehow made it all make sense…

Mom, thank you for nurturing our inner beauty, we love you, Happy Mother’s Day. - "You Are Music"

Dickie and Bobby

Credits: Darkness to Light, The Gold Mask is the mask of the fully realized man, The Mask of Light, or the Sun Mask; Erik wears this mask for his death scene, and for the Second Act Aria” My Mother Bore Me” based on a William Blake Poem. Masks designed and crafted by Marianna Rydvald. Young Erik's mask designed by Lee Michael Walczuk. Special Thanks and gratitude to David Johnston, Artistic Director - Maui Academy of Performing Arts, Steven Haines, Debra Lynn, Jerry Eiting, John Langs, Will Hastings, Marsha Kelly, Vanessa, Dottee & Gerald Barron, Paul & Liz Janes-Brown. Web page design by Gregory Peter Panos