Mister Eclectic (howeird) wrote,
Mister Eclectic
howeird

Dixie Lee Ray

If I had heard her name before I met her, I would have expected a petite, perky southern gal. But I met her before I knew what her name was. That was in 1965, when we moved to Seattle and my parents bought us season passes to the Pacific Science Center. Dr. Ray was director, and she was a Seattle area woman with a chunky build, nothing Southern about her. I was there a lot, and she was usually roaming the exhibits, and got to know the regulars by sight. I asked her once what it would take to get a job there, and she said I would need to be in college and over 18. From time to time she invited kids to her office to meet the otter she kept in the pool outside, I only got to do that once.

When I went to the University of Washington, she was a marine biology professor, famous for driving her tiny convertible with the top down and her poodle on the front seat. I got to see that regularly when I was a student cameraman at the PBS station on campus (it has since moved off-campus) and was assigned to her weekly "animals of the sea" show.

The year after I graduated, she made her pro-nuclear energy views known and although she was a Democrat, Nixon snagged her to head the Atomic Energy Commission. That only lasted two years - I'm guessing her blunt honesty did not sit well with that administration, and they kicked her upstairs to a job called "Assistant Secretary of State for Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs", under Henry Kissinger. She later told me she did not like Kissinger, and the job was a way to kick her out of the AEC. She quit after 6 months.

She returned to That Other Washington, ran for governor, and won. I voted for her from the US Embassy in Bangkok, along with Jimmy Carter, later regretting both votes. She had been the best science center director ever, an excellent educator, and she moved the cause of nuclear power forward in a big way, but as governor she was the worst. I covered one of her early press conferences, and her spokesman was a very handsome African-American man who looked like Hollywood's idea of a star football player. Unfortunately he also appeared to be semi-literate. He had been her assistant in one of her DC jobs, and would have done better to have left him behind. A few months later he was let go, after he was caught driving with his DC plates long after the law required him to register in WA.

As governor she was far to the right, which surprised most of us who were acquainted with her. She lost her re-election bid in the primaries, and her rival lost to a Republican who was more moderate than both of them.

After that she retired to Fox Island, where she had a farm. I think it was where she grew up. She passed away in 1994. She would have been 97 Sept. 3.
Tags: nostalgia
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