The James C. Ray Education Wing at the Henry B. Tippie National Aviation Education Center is named as a tribute to James C. Ray, World War II Veteran, B-17 pilot, and with his wife Joan, the co-founder of the Ray Foundation. The Ray Foundation is a major contributor to the Henry B. Tippie National Aviation Education Center.
Born in San Francisco, California on Jan. 1, 1923, Ray was never idle as a youth. He worked numerous part time jobs and became an Eagle Scout before graduating from high school at the age of 17.
His first employment out of high school was as a steelworker in San Francisco. Later, Ray was sent on an assignment to construct a building for the United States Navy in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, where on Dec. 7th, 1941 he witnessed the attack on Pearl Harbor while working a mere 400 yards away from the USS Arizona. Soon after, he enlisted in the U.S. Army Air Corps and showed an aptitude for flight training.
Ray went on to serve as a B-17 command pilot in the 8th Air Force, 447th Bomb Group while stationed in England. He flew 30 missions, one of which involved an attack on the German Army headquarters in Caen, France on D-Day, June 6, 1944.
Ray met Joan L. Paine, the love of his life, soon after his separation from the military. The couple raised two children along with Joan’s children from her former marriage. The Ray family spent a majority of their time during the 1950’s in Switzerland and moved to Montana during the 60’s where they operated a large- scale cattle ranch. In 1963, Ray and his wife established the Ray Foundation, and one of the group's first efforts was to establish a veterinary research facility to study a disease that rendered cows sterile and find a cure. Within three years, the lab successfully developed a vaccine (TRI-VIB), and royalties from sales of the drug were used to support youth anti-drug education and mental health programs.
Beyond the cattle industry, Ray was also active in oil and gas exploration, and real estate development throughout the course of his 45+ years as a businessman. As an early adopter of modern technology, Ray never met a device that he didn’t love; he was a seed investor or advisor for over 300 startup technology companies that included Compaq Computer, Viasat and Hewlett-Packard.
The Ray family’s passion for aviation can be seen in the work of the Ray Foundation, Inc. today. The programs the Foundation supports strengthen families and fosters self-discipline, confidence and personal responsibility. Ray believed that a strength our country had is in the involvement of youth in all facets of aerospace and he had faith in the talents and energy of the next generation of aviators. “Teaching young people the discipline required to learn the science of flight builds character and confidence,” he said. “The experience of solo flight teaches them that they are independent and free-thinking individuals who are fully capable of being in control of their own lives.”