The News Courier
Raymond Lee Lawrence, 81, entered into eternal rest from his home on Friday, April 20 2012, surrounded by his loving family and dear friends.
Ray was born in New Orleans on Sept. 14, 1930. He grew up in Alexandria-Pineville La., graduated from Bolton High School (class of 1946 at the age of 16) and Pineville College in 1950.
Ray served his country with distinction as staff sergeant, First Marine Air Wing, Korea 1952-1953. On his way home from service, he took a quick train detour to visit a childhood friend attending Auburn. The quick visit became permanent whereupon Ray enrolled in graduate school at API. While at API, Ray worked as a GTA and tutored in the athletic department. Here he met coaches, athletes, and staff and began his lifelong love affair with his Auburn Tigers. He graduated in 1956 with a master’s in mathematics. Ray was then recruited by the Army Ballistic Missile Agency, joining Dr. Wernher von Braun and his team of scientists, engineers, and technicians at Redstone Arsenal in Huntsville.
He became a charter member of NASA’s George C. Marshall Space Flight Center on July 1, 1960. He participated in the recruitment of the best and the brightest scientists and engineers at university and research institutes nationwide to join NASA and MSFC on their mission to the moon.
The bulk of his 25-year service was spent at the Computer Laboratory under the direction and guidance of Dr. Helmut Holzer, lab director, mentor, and father of the analog computer. The simulation division to which he was assigned and ultimately lead, designed and built flight simulators and a lunar rover simulator on which the Apollo astronauts trained prior to mission. One personal highlight was to train astronaut Buzz Aldrin for the first lunar landing. As a marine sergeant, Ray was assigned to a ground support radar unit to cover the Marine fighter pilots who famously fought the Chinese for the control of MIG Alley, (one of whom was the same Buzz Aldrin).
Ray was chosen in 1977 to serve as senior software consultant to the European Space Agency in Bremen, Germany who would build the first international orbiting space station Skylab. Upon returning stateside to MSFC, Ray served as chief engineer Avionics for Skylab until his retirement from NASA in 1984.
Subsequent to his civil service retirement, Ray served as senior software consultant to several civilian and DOD contractors: TRW, McDonnell Douglas, Loral, and Dynetics. He especially enjoyed his last 15 years at Dynetics again returning to radar work some 35 years post-Korea, and again mentoring and learning from this generation of engineers.
Ray’s community involvement in Huntsville began with his membership into the Jaycees. He served in many capacities during the 1960s most notably chairman of the first Jaycee Fair and later president of the organization. In 1964 he was named Huntsville’s Outstanding Young Man. He was also a Mason and a Shriner.
Ray was a founding member and later president of the Huntsville Madison County Auburn Club. He served as youth football coach of the Southeast YMCA for 5 years and as a referee and member of the North Alabama Football Association for 22 years.
A lifelong Episcopalian, Ray was a founding member, lay reader and vestryman of St. Thomas Episcopal Church. Subsequent to moving to southeast Huntsville, he transferred membership to St. Stephens Episcopal Church and continued his service, notably as a founder of the Child Development Center.
Ray was the only child of the late Annie Lee Alston and Whitney Hayden Lawrence. He is survived by his wife of 48 years, Patsy Jones Lawrence; his daughter, Leigh Ann Lawrence, granddaughters, Hayden Brooks Rizer and Isabel Elyse Rizer of Raleigh N.C.; son, Joseph Scott and wife Tracey Green Lawrence, grandchildren Victoria Ray, Joseph Scott II, and Cooper Wayne Lawrence of Monrovia.
The Lawrence family wishes to extend their heartfelt thanks to Hospice of North Alabama and the caregivers of Home Instead for the care and comfort extended to Mr. Lawrence during his final week.
The funeral mass for Ray Lawrence will be held at St. Stephens Episcopal Church at 5 p.m. Tuesday, April 24, followed by a Celebration of Life in the parish hall. Graveside services with full military honors will be held at 10 a.m. Wednesday at Maple Hill Cemetery.
In lieu of flowers the Lawrence family requests that memorials and bequests be made to the St. Stephens Building Fund, 8020 Whitesburg Drive, Huntsville AL 35802.