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EAA Mourns Death of James C. Ray, Longtime Benefactor
April 4, 2017 - James C. Ray, a World War II combat pilot whose later business success benefited EAA’s aviation education efforts, died April 1 in Naples, Florida. He was 94.
Ray’s support for numerous EAA initiatives are part of his legacy, as he made possible both facilities and programs that extended EAA’s ability to grow participation in aviation. Most visible of those gifts is the Air Academy Lodge. Since 1998, this facility has hosted hundreds of young people each summer at the EAA Air Academy, which gives those ages 12-18 the opportunity to discover more about flight.
The Air Academy Lodge was a major element in Ray’s philanthropic support for EAA’s Vision of Eagles initiative in the 1990s, which was created to extend the association’s outreach to all ages but especially young people. The program built on the early success of the Air Academy and Young Eagles to create numerous opportunities to engage in aviation.
“Mr. Ray’s dedication to young people has been a blessing to those who have attended the EAA Air Academy over the years,” said Scott Cameron, Air Academy Camp supervisor, who worked extensively with Ray for more than 20 years. “His contributions helped in allowing young people experience aviation 24/7.”
Ray’s support was also important in numerous other EAA areas, including:
- The Eagle Flight Leadership Center building project, completed in 1999
- Exhibits within the EAA Aviation Museum
- The GlaStar aircraft used to fly Young Eagles at Pioneer Airport
- Initial funding of the Cliff Robertson Work Experience Program, which brings young aviation professionals to Oshkosh to work with Air Academy students each summer
- Financial support that helped create EAA’s Ultimate Flights series on ESPN2 in the mid-1990s.
Ray received EAA’s highest honor, the Freedom of Flight Award, in 1992, and in 2009 had a thoroughfare on the AirVenture grounds named in his honor (James Ray Boulevard).
“James Ray’s unconditional love for the Air Academy was much more than his financial support to the institution,” said Bob Campbell, EAA Aviation Museum director. “He lived through the eyes of the cadets and loved hearing their stories and seeing their accomplishments. It was his financial support that gave the Air Academy life through the building of the lodge and staff lodge, and for that, we will be eternally grateful.”
Ray’s own aviation experiences were also extraordinary. As a young steelworker, he was working in Hawaii on December 7, 1941, when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. Ray promptly enlisted in the Army Air Corps and ultimately served as a B-17 command pilot with the 8th Air Force, flying 30 missions including one on D-Day.
Ray also used aircraft in his business, including a Cessna 170B and Cessna Citation jets. That access to aviation helped his venture capital business thrive and assist more than 300 startup companies. He felt that the discipline and confidence learned during flight training helped him achieve success in life and business.
Along with his support to EAA, Ray was a great supporter of the University of North Dakota aviation program, AOPA pilot safety initiatives, and the Central Florida Aerospace academy in Lakeland.
In accordance with his wishes, there will be no formal services. A private memorial for friends and associates will be held at a later date.