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Every day, health officials, politicians and journalists pour over updated numbers meant to shed light on the COVID-19 pandemic in Utah. But each statistic represents a person — including each number in the death count. In the past nine months, hundreds of Utahns have lost their lives due to the disease. As 2020 comes to a close, KUER is remembering the lives of a few of them.

More Than A Number: Remembering Sione 'Ray' Tuineau

An illustration of Sione “Ray” Tuineau.
Renee Bright
Ray Tuineau was 35-years-old when he died of COVID-19 in August. His family members say he had a big personality and a lot of heart.
A photo of Ray Tuineau at his graduation with his family.
Courtesy of Juliet Tuineau
As an adult, Ray Tuineau went back to school. He earned an Associate’s Degree from Snow College, something his brother A.J. said he was proud to have achieved. He is pictured here at graduation with wife Juliet Tuineau and their three sons. Courtesy Juliet Tuineau.

Sione Ray Tuineau was 35-years-old and lived in West Valley City. He went by Ray, and was a husband, father, one of eight siblings and — by all accounts — the life of the party.

“He was always full of light. Every time he walked in the room, you knew you were gonna have a good time,” said A.J. Tuineau, his brother.

Ray’s widow Juliet said that sense of fun was part of everything he did — especially parenting.

“He would rap with my kids, he would sing off key with my kids, he would have little dance parties,” she said.

Ray also loved sports, like football and Tongan rugby.

“When it came to football season he would always try to find some way that our family could go watch a [Brigham Young University] football game, because BYU’s his favorite college team,” Juliet said.

A.J. said his brother was a great athlete, too, and that he loved supporting his family when they played. He remembers Ray as being the “loudest in the crowd” yelling “That’s my brother!”

But he’d still let you know where his team loyalties lied. Like showing up to University of Utah games, where A.J. played rugby, while wearing a BYU sweatshirt and hat.

A Man of Faith

A photo of Ray Tuineau, his niece, nephew and brother A.J.
Courtesy of A.J. Tuineau.
Ray Tuineau [left] holds his niece Pretty Fa Tuineau. His brother A.J. Tuineau [right] holds his son Ray, named for his brother.

When Ray contracted COVID-19, his family said they didn’t think it was a big deal at first since he was young, though he did have an underlying health condition. But he kept getting sicker and eventually ended up in the hospital.

“We as siblings, we always think about the two weeks he was in there, in the hospital without seeing anyone,” A.J. said, fighting back tears. “His wife, his kids, my parents. We kind of think that he was there alone. But at the same time, we knew he wasn’t. He wasn’t alone — that our father in heaven was with him for those two weeks.”

Ray was an active member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. It’s where he met his wife, and his family said their faith has carried them through the last few months.

Lessons From Ray’s Death

Juliet said it hurts when she hears people saying “COVID-19 isn’t real.”

“It’s like, you think it’s fake. OK, then you come here and you explain to my three boys what took their dad,” she said.

Since his death, she said she’s found comfort in talking about her late husband, looking at photos and watching old videos to hear his voice again. She said she feels grateful to live in a time when her memories were recorded so easily.

For A.J., his older brother’s memory lives on in his own son, who is named after Ray.

“He’s humble and he reminds me a lot of Ray,” A.J. said.

Sione Ray Tuineau died Aug. 8.

Caroline is the Assistant News Director
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