Rafael Ray Gosovich, a longtime business owner and humanitarian who shared teenage adventures with legendary character actor Don Knotts, died Thursday of natural causes, his family said. He was 88.
Mr. Gosovich owned and operated G/W Carpet, Appliance and Builders Supply in Sacramento until 2004. He opened his Franklin Boulevard store in 1962 and carried one of the first shipments of Radaranges now known as microwave ovens on the West Coast.
He thought, Whos going to buy these things at $1,200 apiece? said his son Matt. He sold them all.
Mr. Gosovich reached out to help children as a parent, volunteer and donor. As president of the Sacramento County Board of Education in the late 1960s, he led efforts to acquire the Sly Park education center in the Eldorado National Forest. He served as president of Grace Day Home, a longtime Sacramento day care center for children that closed in 2004.
A survivor of childhood polio, he led the Easter Seals drive in Sacramento and received a special award for his contributions. He donated to St. Josephs Indian School for Lakota children in South Dakota.
At home, he adopted and raised three children with his wife, Lois. The couple also took in Mr. Gosovichs 11-year-old nephew for several years after the boys mother died.
Although raised in tough times, Mr. Gosovich enjoyed happy memories of his own early years. Rafael Noel Gojsovich was born with a twin sister on Sept. 22, 1924, to Serbian immigrants in Johnstown, Pa. He began delivering newspapers by age 6 to help his mother support her four children after his father, a merchant mariner and Navy sailor, died in 1928.
At 15, he moved with his family to Morgantown, W. Va., and dropped the j from his last name to make pronunciation easier for others. He joined the debate team and was named most polite in the yearbook at Morgantown High School, where his friend Don Knotts was class president. After graduation in 1942, the buddies hitchhiked to New York, where Knotts hoped to make it into show business with his ventriloquist act.
We got off (a bus) in New York City with our cardboard suitcases, Mr. Gosovich told The Sacramento Bee in 2006. Two kids from West Virginia. A couple of hillbillies.
They got rooms at the YMCA for 5 cents a night and landed separate jobs as bellhops. While Mr. Gosovich wore white gloves and opened doors for Helen Hayes, Teddy Roosevelt Jr. and other famous names at the elegant Royal Club, Knotts worked at a hotel frequented by merchant marines.
It was a pretty rough place, but he stuck it out, Mr. Gosovich recalled. It was an adventure to us. We were young and foolish.
The teenagers returned home with the United States at war. Ineligible for combat because of his earlier polio, Mr. Gosovich joined the American Field Service and was sent to India as an ambulance driver as war was ending in 1945. He attended the University of Arizona, worked for Bank of America in the San Francisco Bay Area and married his wife in 1952.
He began selling radio and TV sets for Emerson Corp. and moved to Stockton to work for Admiral Corp. In 1953, he settled with his wife in Elk Grove and was general manager of developer Buzz Oates building supply operation in Sacramento for several years before starting his own business.
Mr. Gosovich was an active member of Elk Grove Friends of the Library. He belonged to Sacramento Rotary Club and helped the Salvation Army distribute holiday food baskets.
He remained lifelong friends with Knotts, who found fame on TV in the 1960s as Deputy Barney Fife on The Andy Griffith Show. Knotts, who enjoyed a successful career in television and films, wrote about his early travels with Mr. Gosovich in his autobiography.
Our friendship has lasted all this time, Knotts told The Bee shortly before his death in 2006. Ray is one of the nicest guys I have ever known. I appreciate his friendship.
Mr. Gosovich was predeceased by his wife in 2005 and two sons, David and Rusty. Besides his son Matt, he is survived by his sister Zora Schnake, four grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.
A funeral is set for 10 a.m. Wednesday at East Lawn Elk Grove Mortuary, 9189 E. Stockton Blvd., Elk Grove, CA 95624. In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to Elk Grove Friends of the Library.
Call The Bees Robert D. Dávila, (916)321-1077. Follow him on Twitter @Bob_Davila