Thrawn Rickle 50

Dixie Lee Ray

© 1994 Williscroft

It was 1968, and my wife I were strolling through the Pacific Science Center in downtown Seattle. As we passed the Director’s office, we heard a rich, contralto voice call out: “Mr. Williscroft, one moment, if you please.”

We paused, and Dixy Lee Ray stepped out of her office with a big smile, eyes crinkling in her chubby face. “Thank you for stopping,” she said. Then she smiled at my wife and continued, “Hello, Christine. I’ve been wanting to meet you. How are you?”

Dixy was my zoology professor at University of Washington. I was one of perhaps a hundred or more students in her large class. There was nothing special about me. As a marine physics and meteorology major taking one of the required life-science courses, there was simply nothing memorable about me. That this woman knew not only my name, but the fact that I was married, and my spouse’s name was extraordinary.

During the following months we participated in several field outings to the Straits of Juan de Fuca with Dixy. Christine, who was recently immigrated from Germany, was shy and ill at ease in the presence of the boisterous American college students. Dixy realized her predicament and took her under wing, so that Christine got as much or more education and enjoyment from these field trips than did any of the other students.

On campus, Dixy was outspoken and brash. She never minced words, and she stood out as a paragon of rational thinking in the midst of that turbulent decade. She was loved by her students, admired by those who saw in her something that rang true, envied by her colleagues who never learned the trick of saying the right thing at the right time to produce another headline, and hated by her detractors, because she was nearly always right, and they knew it.

In 1969 we left Seattle as I pursued my military career. In 1973, shortly after I was posted to the Submarine Development Group in San Diego, Dixy—as a Democrat—was appointed by President Nixon to head the Atomic Energy Commission. In her inimitable way she shocked everybody by living in her motor home when she was in Washington, DC, and by taking her dogs to work. Two years later she left this position in disgust with the public comment that the other members of the commission were a bunch of gutless old fools.

Then she took on the powerful Republican establishment in Washington State, defeating John Spellman in a race for the governor. Dixy arrived in Olympia about the time we arrived back in Seattle on assignment with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. She was easily the most outspoken and controversial governor in Washington State history. She took them all on: everybody with a “cause,” all of the “sky is falling,” hysterical harbingers of forthcoming disaster. In a running television interview that lasted several evenings, she directly challenged the environmentalist article of faith that supertankers should never enter Puget Sound. With simple, clear logic she pointed out that oil spills ultimately are a function of numbers; the more tankers you have, the more likely is a spill. A large number of small tankers, she argued, would inevitably lead to one or more spills, whereas using a smaller number of larger tankers would significantly lower the spill risk.

When opponents countered that a pipeline was more environmentally kind, she devastated them with detailed numbers on the kind of environmental havoc that results from such a pipeline.

Dixy founded Democrats for Reagan. She actively and vociferously promoted reasoned and wise use of our resources, and relentlessly opposed the forces of environmental and energy-related nonsense and pseudo-science.

Twelve years later, Christine was in Chicago O’Hare Airport. She noticed a heavy-set woman with luggage labels that read “DLR.” The woman looked familiar, so Christine walked up to her and asked, “Excuse me, aren’t you Dr. Ray?”

Dixy looked up and her face broke into a huge smile. “Why, Christine! It’s been nearly twenty-two years!”

The world lost this magnificent human being just one day into 1994. Dixy Lee Ray was seventy-nine. I mourn the passing of my hero and my friend.