RAY, Elizabeth Nona
Elizabeth Nona "Betty" Ray, 98, of Southern Pines, North Carolina, died December 7, 2011, at St. Joseph of the Pines.
Ms. Ray was born May 31, 1913, in Winnsboro, Texas to Shaw D. and Madie Helen Smart Ray, and was sister to Shaw D. Ray, Jr., and Mary Agnes (Ray) Clark, all of whom preceded her in death. Her family moved to Duncan, Oklahoma, when she was a teenager, and later to Oklahoma City.
A 1934 graduate of the University of Oklahoma School of Journalism, Ms. Ray worked as a reporter and eventually as city editor of the Anadarko (OK) Daily News. She moved to Washington, D.C., in 1940 to take a civilian public relations position with the War Department. In 1942 she entered the Women's Auxiliary Army Corps and received her commission as a second lieutenant after completing officer candidate school at Fort Des Moines. This was the beginning of a long and distinguished military career.
During World War II, Ms. Ray served as commanding officer of a WAC (Women's Army Corps) platoon attached to the 15th Air Force in Italy and North Africa. She received the Bronze Star for "meritorious service in connection with operations against the enemy not involving actual combat." Commissioned a regular Air Force captain in 1949, she served as assistant public information officer for the Continental Air Command, and in 1953 she was appointed deputy director of the WAF (Women in the Air Force). In 1955 she was named executive secretary to the defense advisory committee on women in the armed services. Then a lieutenant colonel, Ms. Ray was assigned to the Strategic Air Command at Offutt Air Force Base, Nebraska in 1958, where she served as chief of the SAC promotion and records branch.
In 1961 President John F. Kennedy appointed Lt. Col. Ray director of Women in the Air Force, the highest rank to which a woman of her day could aspire, and promoted her to full colonel. She was the first woman to achieve this rank.
When her commission expired in 1965, Ms. Ray retired from the WAF to return to her journalistic roots in her adopted home state of Oklahoma, becoming public relations director at Oklahoma College of Liberal Arts (now University of Science and Arts of Oklahoma) in Chickasha, Oklahoma. In 1966 she became grants coordinator with the University of Oklahoma Medical Center, and from 1968 until her retirement in 1975 she served as assistant dean for academic affairs at the University of Texas Medical Branch, Galveston, Texas.
Throughout her illustrious military and civilian careers, Ms. Ray maintained a love of golf. She followed that love, and some of her closest retired military friends, to the golf community of Southern Pines, N.C., where she played golf regularly long into her retirement years. She also loved animals, and was especially devoted to her precious Shih Tzu, Mr. Choo Choo.
Ms. Ray is survived by many long time friends in the Southern Pines community, and by nephew Harold Clark, Jr. of Oklahoma City, and nieces Mary Beth Cody of Houston, Texas, and Robyn Bodin of Norman, Oklahoma, and their families.
Ms. Ray's remains will be interred at Arlington National Cemetery at a future date.