In memorial

Michael Earl Raff,

JACKSON – Michael Earl Raff, a bold champion of civil rights, public service, the Arts and the city of Jackson, died on Oct. 23, 2019, at Hospice Ministries following a long illness. He leaves behind a broken-hearted family and a legion of relatives, friends and associates.
Born in Sioux City, Iowa, Michael was the son of the late Mary Nash and Earl Raff. The eldest of five children, his childhood was spent attending Catholic schools where he excelled in academics and sports, especially football. He developed a work ethic for which he later became famous. The family moved frequently during his childhood, and Michael often recalled the difficulty of attending seven schools in a five-year span. This gave him the resilience and the appreciation for friendship that marked his character.
Michael attended Notre Dame, majoring in business and earning membership in the coveted Blue Circle Honor Society. After graduation, Michael answered the call from God to the priesthood. He attended the Immaculate Conception Seminary in Conception, Missouri, earning a BA with Honors in Philosophy in 1965 and an MA in Theology, with Honors, in 1969.
His abiding sense of justice and disdain for bullies propelled Michael to Mississippi to join the fight for Civil Rights. He was ordained a priest for the Diocese by Bishop Joseph B. Brunini, on May 24, 1969 at St. Peter’s Cathedral, in Jackson – the church he served so faithfully, first, as an assistant pastor and, later, as a beloved parishioner. This is the same church where his extraordinary life was be celebrated on Monday, Oct. 28.
From 1969 to 1971 Michael served as pastor of St. Alphonsus Parish in Ocean Springs, after which he returned to Jackson as executive director of the Mississippi Council of Human Relations to improve racial relations, to advocate for the poor and disenfranchised, and to act as a liaison for businesses, labor and government to work towards equal employment in state jobs. It was a fateful assignment for it was during this time that Michael met Linda Glass, whose commitment to racial equality was the same as his own. His resignation from the priesthood and marriage to Linda created a partnership for social justice that is unequaled in our time. They each supported the other in their ministries to care for “the least of these.” Their marriage has been a source of delight and inspiration to all who know them.
Instrumental in the founding of Legal Services, Michael developed legal assistance to the poor from 1978 through 1983. He brought his skill in advocacy to the Mississippi Legislature. His experience with Legal Services and battles against unfair energy services led him to run for Public Service Commissioner, a race he lost by a heartbreakingly small margin. Michaels’ expertise in public service led him to work for two governors and for several Jackson mayors, as he developed and administered programs for the poor, the homeless, the young, the old, the hungry and the otherwise forgotten. Along the way, he has accumulated honors only Princes of the Realm accrue: The NAACP Goodman, Chaney, Schwerner Award to Individuals Contributing Most to the Political Power for All Citizens; The Southern Center for Human Rights “Founders Award for Advancing the Cause of Justice;” the Association of Community Action Award for Outstanding Dedicated Service; the Mississippi Religious Leadership Founder Award for Exemplifying Ideals of Peace and Justice; the Center for Justice’s Champion of Justice Award; and the Friendship Ball Honoree in 2000.
But most people reading this will remember Michael best as the Pasta Man and, later, as the consummate and abiding host at Thalia Mara. Beginning in 1989, Michael opened “My Favorite Spaghetti,” in a closed service station on the corner of Jefferson and High Streets. A total departure from his public service career, My Favorite Spaghetti was a great success; Jackson’s first healthy option for fast food. Doris Ward was his mainstay, but he hired his children and many of their friends and taught them the famous Raff work ethic, which is still talked about to this day. Michael talked about them too, relishing in and taking pride in their successes in life.
A kind and gentle single-mindedness of purpose is what folks remember about Michael’s work as Director of Cultural Services for the City of Jackson, his final and, according to him, favorite job. As Director of Cultural Services, Michael oversaw Thalia Mara Hall, Smith Robertson Museum, The Arts Center and the Municipal Art Center. He supported the efforts of the Museum of Art, Ballet MS, the IBC, the Symphony, the Muslim Museum, MS Opera and Very Special Arts.
At Thalia Mara, Michael advocated for and oversaw the refurbishment of the auditorium, a Herculean effort, completed in 2014. No one who saw him, battling arthritis and struggling to walk, will ever forget the transcendent joy the gift of being at Thalia Mara brought him. He retired in November 2018.
Michael was preceded in death by his parents and brothers Richard and Mark Raff and Linda’s parents, Marvin and Mary Emma Glass. Surviving him are his beloved wife Linda; daughter Lauren (Ney) and children Clayton and Olivia; and son Matthew (Ginger) and children Mary Emma and Nash. He is also survived by his sister Sharon Kelly (Jerry); his sister Margie Labelle (Ron) and their children and grandchildren; and Linda’s sisters, Sandra Waide (David) and Mary Beth (Roland) and their children and grandchildren.
Memorials may be sent to Catholic Charities or The Mississippi Center for Justice.