By Debbie Hall
Ray Reynolds, a Collinsville photographer and contractor, recently returned from the kickoff of President Donald Trump’s 2020 re-election campaign in Orlando, Fla.
Reynolds, 58, volunteers at many other GOP events up and down the East Coast but until the 2016 campaign, he was not political and never had even voted. He said that was because the national political scene seemed of little importance. That changed when his lifestyle was impacted, he said.
“I became political because I lost my health insurance” when the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, went into effect, Reynolds said, and explained that his mother’s death soon followed. It was the result of limits on Medicare coverage, Reynolds said.
His sister died while waiting for a procedure that could have saved her life, Reynolds said, adding that pre-approval was required because the procedure was considered to be a nonemergency, even though it was related to serious heart and lung issues.
Reynolds said the combination of tragedies prompted him to accept an offer to volunteer for the Trump campaign during the South Carolina Primary. “On Aug. 15, 2015, I did my first event in Greenville, S.C.,” Reynolds said.
During that and similar events “I got to hear his plans to change the country and put America first. He believed in our veterans and law enforcement, and it resonated with me,” Reynolds said of Trump.
Reynolds said he met Tony Porta, a wounded warrior who has had 175 operations, and Bobby Dowling, a retired NCIS agent who now is Porta’s bodyguard. Both planned to attend an event for Trump in Fayetteville, N.C. Reynolds decided to go as well, and while there he learned that Porter would be a guest on a nationally syndicated TV show. Reynolds also learned he would be the exclusive photographer for Porta’s appearance.
During an event at Liberty University, Reynolds said he also met Joshua Macais, who named him the official “Veterans for Trump” photographer.
“That is the first time I got credentials,” Reynolds said, adding that he passed the muster of the Secret Service and was by then attending many Trump events as a volunteer photographer.
He recalled that a photo of Melania Trump at a podium in Myrtle Beach, S.C., “put me on the map.” The photo also graces the back cover of Reynolds’ first book, “The Trump Movement: My Path, My Purpose.”
That book, like his second, “Making America Great Again, My North Carolina Story,” offers pictorial timelines of Reynolds’ 58,000-mile journey to 59 events in 2016.
After traveling to another event in Charlotte, N.C., he became the official North Carolina photographer for the rest of the campaign.
Many times, Reynolds said he returned to his home in the wee hours of the morning to grab a couple of hours sleep before heading to the next event.
During Reynolds’ interview, Debbie Harwell called, and on speakerphone, said Reynolds “is the most dedicated supporter of Trump I’ve ever met. He has sacrificed the most and he did it from his heart.”
While some people have paid for his food and perhaps an occasional hotel room, Reynolds’ efforts are unpaid. “We were all volunteers,” he said of many people working on the campaign.
Reynolds said his efforts have their own rewards. In addition to Trump’s victory, Reynolds said he met and talked with Oliver North for two hours. He has met Steve Bannon; Lara Trump, daughter-in-law of the president; and “down to earth, blue collar workers, retired sheriffs from Patrick County, other people like me that never voted before because Trump resonated with them.”
The list includes people of all genders and ethnicities, as his books attest.
“Most people know I’m not in this for the money or to be a celebrity,” Reynolds said. “We all have freedom and we all are one. My biggest thing in 2020 is unity,” he said.
Although there are those pushing an agenda of division, “pictures don’t lie” about the base of Trump’s appeal, Reynolds said, adding that in between his campaign travels, he is working on a third book. He said that project will focus on the period from Trump’s 2016 victory until now.