Facts of Life’s Charlotte Ray devoted her life to her autistic son Andrew Strauss. And it was her “greatest act of love.”
In a recent memoir titled Light Man, Ray’s eldest son, Larry Strauss, paid tribute to his mother for never giving up on Andrew.
As he told Fox News, doctors diagnosed Andrew “with developmental mental illness’ in the early 1960s. At that time, the medical world didn’t understand autism. And they urged the Facts of Life actress to send Andrew away.
“My parents were told by doctors and others to abandon him, to institutionalize him, and get on with their lives,” he remembered. “My parents refused to do that. So as a result, you grow up seeing some upsetting things, disturbing things. My parents endured tremendous hardship. And even with all the support that now exists, it’s never enough.”
When Larry and his brother were growing up, mentally disabled children were not allowed to attend public schools. And most private schools weren’t equipped to handle the extra responsibilities that went along with autistic children.
But that didn’t stop Charlotte Ray from getting her son a proper education. The actress spent countless years finding other parts with autistic children. And together, they fought to change the school systems.
“I still have a letter from [New York City] Mayor [Robert F.] Wagner to my mother about it, really thanking her for some of the work that she did in terms of getting resources and stuff like that.”
The ‘Facts of Life’ Actress ‘Never Gave Up’
Larry Stauss admitted that he couldn’t understand why his parents “never gave up” on Andrew.
“The truth is, when I was an obnoxious teenager and young adult, I sometimes made fun of my parents for their silliness,” he told Fox.
Ray and her husband John Strauss never lost hope that they could “cure” Andrew. The parents tirelessly researched and went to doctors’ appointments hoping that their child would one day “speak in full sentences and express himself.”
But unfortunately, that never happened. However, watching his mother’s undying devotion inspired him to follow in her footsteps and help children through his teaching career.
“But now I don’t see them as foolish at all. To me, it’s the greatest act of love. You just don’t give up. It doesn’t matter if you’re wrong. You just don’t give up,” he admitted. “I’ve been an inner-city high school teacher for 30 years now and I’ve never given up on any of my students. And I’ve had many of my students tell me it’s that act of not giving up that saved them. In turn, they didn’t give up on themselves.”
Charlotte Ray and John Strauss continued to fight for their son until his death. In 1999, Andrew suffered a fatal heart attack. He was 44 years old.