Team Lincoln: Ray Colvard

This Sunday, April 29th marks the 100th birthday for long-time AFRH resident, Soldiers’ Home history buff, veteran, retired teacher, former journalist of The Bugler (the Home’s newsletter), doting father and grandfather, and man-of-many-talents, Ray Colvard. Jenny Phillips, the External Communications Coordinator chatted with his son David to find out more about the man whose office used to be in what is now the Cottage’s staff library.

When I called up Ray’s son David, who now lives in San Diego with his family, I went from laughing to tearing up, and then laughing again, all within our hour-long phone call. I called David to talk about his dad’s upcoming birthday and his planned trip to D.C. Within the hour David regaled me with tales of his dad’s life — a very full life indeed — that all started on a small, rural farm in Hickory, North Carolina.

Ray Colvard grew up on a small farm in North Carolina, so poor “he would wear car inner tubes for shoes,” his son laughed. But once he had his Navy paycheck, Ray was intent to make up for lost time and started collecting nice shoes. “He only bought the best shoes,” David explained. “Even when he was a teacher, he would wear a suit and tie every day to school. He was that guy.” It was common fact that if you saw Ray, 95{f8375f47ae67af23d41895d389f5f1bd2473dc9169ad9eb3f7b4c1f331050350} of the time he was wearing a tie.

Ray attended Hudson High School in California, and joined the Navy right when he was eighteen. He served as a Communications Officer on a ship along the East Coast of the U.S. during World War II. His first assignment was at the Naval Station in Great Lakes, Illinois. He met the love of his life, Jo — who had just signed up to join the war effort in the U.S. Army as a WAC in Chicago — at a restaurant. They chatted over drinks, and decided to go to the Art Institute the very next day. Since they were located in different places, they could only meet during weekends. Ray was transferred to Norfolk, Virginia, and they could only communicate by mail. When they decided to get married in 1946, and realized how difficult it would be to coordinate a Virginia/Illinois wedding, they decided on the spur of the moment to elope in Waukegan, Illinois.

After ten years of marriage, Jo and Ray adopted David, their only child. While in California, and after 24 years in the Navy, Ray re-enrolled in college, at UC-Santa Barbara, where he graduated at the top of his class. “His IQ was off the charts,” his son explained. His father completed his degree in 1.5 years, while most students took four years to complete. Ray’s IQ was so high, he was a member of MENSA. He received his Masters at San Diego State and was a high school U.S. history and political science teacher for 24 years in California. Ray taught at Carmel High School, which actually is the basis for Cameron Crowe’s Fast Times at Ridgemont High. He was teaching at the time that Crowe scouted out the school and notoriously went undercover as a student. David explained that all the characters in the film were based off of real students and teachers. So I had to ask if his dad was a character, to which he laughed, “Ha, no, my dad is not Mr. Hand, I promise.”

After decades in California, the Colvards eventually moved to D.C. Jo Colvard, who just passed away this January, was also a resident at AFRH. George Wellman, long-time resident of AFRH explained that Jo and Ray Colvard were the last of the married couples to live together at AFRH. They would have celebrated 72 years of marriage in June.

Ray and Jo loved living in D.C. on the AFRH campus, using it as hub for all their travels. They traveled often to Europe or to visit their son in California, and enjoyed all the museums D.C. had to offer. “My dad is a super intellectual guy,” David said. A meticulous planner, he plotted out all the trips with great detail, including a family cross-country vacation. Ray was also active in the AFRH community, writing for The Bugler and The Communicator, two publications AFRH produced. A huge history buff, Ray focused on the history of the grounds. His office was even located where the Cottage staff library is today. His room at AFRH overlooks the Cottage.

A voracious reader, Ray “could have just the best talks,” David said. “He was so knowledgeable on so many things. He was extremely kind and generous; he’s just an amazing human being.”

David and his wife Kim are visiting his father this weekend for his 100th birthday. Join us in wishing Ray a happy birthday!

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