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Raymond Burell, III was the first of five sons born to the union of Evelyn Earline and Raymond Burell, Jr. on September 5, 1962 in Portland, Oregon. He was educated in the public schools of Portland and graduated from Jefferson High School and continued his studies at Portland Community College.
The Burell Family joined Vancouver Avenue First Baptist Church in Portland under the leadership of the late Dr. O.B. Williams. Dr. Williams and First Lady Willia Williams were very special to Raymond, and he was very special to them. He was fond of music and history and used both to the glory of God in his work at Vancouver Avenue for many years. His contributions to the Music Ministry including leading the “Reunion Choir” (a mix of former and current members of the Church), directing the Male Chorus, Angel and Inspirational Choirs.
While he grew up in a working-class home, Raymond always had a love for high-fashion and the finer things of life. He was known to enjoy leafing through fashion magazines, shopping in Neiman Marcus, Versace, Oscar de la Renta, Louis Vuitton, and many other brand-named retail stores. He loved brand-named clothing from Oscar de la Renta, Ferragamo, Alfani, Ralph Lauren, Burberry, Cole-Haan, and Calvin Kline to name a few. He was blessed to work for several years in top named retail establishments; most notably Saks Fifth Avenue and Macy’s.
He loved to offer fashion advice to men and women everywhere. Many people in the Portland area sought him out for his advice and can bear witness that he was responsible for “dressing” them. To a person each one he gave advice to or picked out clothing for were considered among the best dressed; bar none. To his credit he had quite a personal collection of upscale suits, ties, shirts, scarfs, sweaters, and shoes in his own closet. He was known for his fashion flare and was always not only decked out well, but with his signature scarf and head coverings.
In addition to his love for fashion Raymond had a passion for history and was always collecting information about buildings, people, and events. He was responsible for co-authoring Vancouver Avenue’s 45thyear history book in 1990 and authored the Church’s history book in 2009 coinciding with the celebration of the 65thChurch Anniversary and the 100thanniversary of the Church Building. On Palm Sunday 2011 the 60thanniversary of the “March to the New Building” in 1951 (when the Church walked up Vancouver Avenue from its former site at 1914 to 3138) he was instrumental in working with area leaders, non-profit organizations, other Churches, and City Government officials to re-create that march. It was the next year he was key to the Church having an exhibit at the Oregon Historical Society downtown, the first time for a largely African American Church in Oregon. He was also a key player in the story-telling of the Vanport Mosaic where survivors of the flood shared their memories and a powerful documentary was produced. All of these projects and many others were quite successful and will live on as major memories for everyone who has been a part of seeing these events evolve and unfold.
When Mother Willia Williams passed away Raymond inherited many pictures, books, and other historical information and added it to that which he had already accumulated over the years. His grasp of history and information was so deep that when a local African American Baptist Church was about to celebrate their 60thChurch Anniversary they did not look to their own storehouse of information, they looked to Brother Raymond and he did not let them down—he had the information. The same is true for the General Baptist Convention and the Union District Baptist Association.
His love for history caused him to be officially appointed “Church Archivist” by Pastor J.W. Matt Hennessee and it was unanimously ratified by the membership. In addition to what has already been stated about his work, because of his amazing efforts Vancouver Avenue was named to the National Register of Historic Places in 2017 and a permanent plaque rests on the front of the Church as a result. He was also instrumental in assisting the Church with grant money to renovate the Church kitchen, Sanctuary, replacement of the opaque windows in the Sanctuary with similar ornate windows that already exist, and the renovations to the lower level are still in process including an area for young people in STEM education and an African American History Museum.
Raymond was often teased and jeered for his very expensive taste when it came to Church celebrations regarding programs, food, and outside speakers. While that is true, everything he touched and everything he did always came off with such class and grace that no one could deny the fact that “but-for” his input—it might not have been as good.
In 2018, due to his amazing contributions and continued work in the upkeep and renovations of the building he was named to the Trustee Board and served in that capacity until his passing. For those who know him well you can be assured his spirit will live long in this Church as often we will feel his spirit directing us and scolding us if things are not done, “just-so.”
He was preceded in death by his parents, his brother, Sherman, and many other relatives. He leaves to mourn his passing the following, brothers: Oscar Lee (Tina), Gerald Fitzpatrick, and Gregory Lamar; nieces & nephews: Oscar Jr., Elizabeth Burell Green, Ganiece Burell, and Rawlin Burell; great-nieces & nephews: Mya Green, Amelia Green, Daniel Green, Jr., and Ace Isaiah Burell; and a host of other relatives and friends too numerous to name.