Raymond (RL) Lee Smith|
February 19, 1933 - June 22, 2013
Resident of Bay Area
Ray passed peacefully after a courageous battle these last few months with congestive heart failure.
He was born February 19th, 1933 in Grant Pass, Oregon to Gale and Edna Smith, the youngest of their five children. The family moved to Medford, Oregon shortly after World War II. He spent his summers working in the surrounding orchards picking peaches, pears and hops with his older brother, Rick. It was there that he would develop his strong work ethic that would define him in the years to come. While attending Medford Senior High School he would letter for three years in varsity baseball, become a varsity yell leader and begin a friendship with Don Schneider and Don's future wife, Colleen, that would last a lifetime. Upon graduating from high school in 1951, he attended Southern Oregon Teacher's College in Ashland, Oregon and later transferred to the University of Oregon in Eugene where he would graduate with a degree in history and secondary education. Ray joined the ROTC while in college and upon graduating went directly into the United States Marine Corps as a 2nd lieutenant. He qualified for flight school where he earned his wings flying fixed wing aircraft before eventually focusing on helicopters. His military service took him many places in the Far East, including Japan, Okinawa and the Philippines. Upon completing his active duty, he settled in the Los Angeles area where he married, had a son, Scott, and worked for the Morris Plan Company. During this time he continued to serve in the USMC reserve, continuing his flying and achieved the rank of Lieutenant Colonel upon retiring from the Corps. During the majority of his time in the Corps, Ray flew under the command of William Groeniger III in HMM 764. It was a relationship with the Groeniger family that would continue for the rest of his life.
It was at this time that he decided a career change was in order and in 1972 he moved to the San Francisco Bay Area on the advice of his squadron commander and began working for Groeniger and Company in Oakland, a distributor of underground piping materials, as the office manager and run by the Groeniger family patriarch, William Groeniger II. It was a move that would last 38 years until his retirement in 2010 and one that would begin a lifelong friendship with Mike Groeniger, Sr, the youngest of the three Groeniger sons. As the company continued to grow, it relocated to Hayward, and in 1975, behind Mike and Beverly Groeniger's vision and Ray's relentless drive, the company eventually grew to the largest independently owned establishment of its type in Northern and Central California, growing from one branch and 13 employees to 18 branches and over 300 employees. During Ray's career at Groeniger and Company he was admired and respected by everyone for his strong work ethic, firm but fair dealings, sense of humor and uncanny ability to remember the smallest detail. This almost photographic memory was responsible in part for many of the company's early successes. His dedication to the job was legendary, as he became known for not missing a day of work to injury or illness in 27 years.
Upon attending his 25th Medford High School reunion in 1976 he was reintroduced to Mary Lou White and their courtship soon resulted in them being wed in March of 1977. The newlyweds and Mary Lou's children, Catherine & Jeff, soon moved to Castro Valley and another chapter in Ray's life began. RL & ML, as they were affectionately called by many, enjoyed traveling, among other pastimes, and their travels took them all over the world for the next four decades including trips to all the continents. These trips included most of Europe, South America, Russia, China, Australia, the Panama Canal, Egypt and Antarctica to name a few.
Ray was an avid sports fan and he and Mary Lou loved to entertain. They were supporters of the Woodminster theatre in the Oakland Hills for many years and the pre-show BBQ's became a tradition for many. He enjoyed working in the garden and playing golf when he still could. He loved cats, an occasional glass of Chardonnay and chocolate in all of its glorious forms. Above all, he loved people and being around them. He was beyond generous and possessed a self-deprecating sense of humor. Beneath the sometimes gruff exterior was a truly caring man who will be missed dearly by many. As he was quick to respond when described as an ex-marine, " there are no ex-marines…only retired ones…once a marine, a marine for life!" Semper Fi.
His parents, Edna and Gale Smith, his brothers, Gaylord and Richard Lynn, his sisters' Marjorie and Joanne, preceded him in death. He is survived by his wife of 36 years, Mary Lou, his children, Scott (Kathleen), Catherine Kvikstad (Dr Ronald Kvikstad ), and Jeffery Sitton and his grandsons, Steven and Logan Smith.
A celebration of life will be held Sunday July 21st, 2013 from 1-4 pm at Willow Park Golf Course in Castro Valley. In lieu of flowers donations can be made to the Hayward Animal Shelter.
Published in Inside Bay Area on July 7, 2013