April 16, 2005

Ray O' Neal Sr.

Carmel California
February 25, 2005

Today at 10 am I received a phone call from Vicki, Sophie's Mother, it was a year ago to the hour, since she had made "the most difficult call of her life", to inform me of Ray's accident. She hadn't elaborated, only said that he had been involved in a serious accident and that they couldn't stop the bleeding. I subconsciously envisioned he had broken a leg or something, but it was much worse, he was gone when I got there.

All of us remember where we were and what we were doing when we received that news, time stood still.

For the whole of the past year I have been unable to speak about this to anyone in more than general terms. In short, I really don't know what happened to Ray other than he fell off "his" building; I know none of the details.

Vicki told me I must talk about it, and I suppose that's true, but where does one start? Ray was not only my son, he was my traveling companion; from Alaska to the jungles of Columbia, Papua New Guinea, Nicaragua, Guatemala, El Salvador and the Philippines, Japan and Korea, Thailand and Africa, and every place in between: Ray was my best friend. Mardi Gras, Christmas, Birthdays, Oktoberfest, Head of the Charles, Henley, weddings and funerals, laughter to tears and back again. Our adventures were so wide and so varied that there is no one else on the planet that I can share them with. We flew, swam, dived, hiked, fished, sailed, skied, drank and enjoyed most of the world. Like with all who knew him, my life now holds a huge void, a place where I still dare not go.

That said, I shall venture forth into that place in which I have left countless memories and many stories. I will share a few of them with you, if I may.

Ray's mother, Helen Hayden O'Neal (PhD, Tulane, '64) died when he was about 7-8 years old, from then on until he met Sophie, there were only the tow of us to lool out for each other. I was an Airline Captain, in the good old days, when there were always a few empty seats on the airplanes, - whenever school permitted, Ray would go on my flights with me. He spent so many hours in sea 1-A that the flight attendants referred to him as the kid in 1-A.

Ray went to boarding school in England for a spell (he didn't care for it at the time, but he learned a great deal from it) and it was a big decision as to whether to leave him there for four more years or to bring him back to the U.S. for High School. He came home to Acalanes High School in Lafayette, California and thence to Tulane.

An England story; Ray's classmates were talking airplanes, and Ray said that he had flown a 727. His roommate said, "I've flown a 707, my Dad owns BWIA", the conversation turned to who's Dad owned the most airplanes, and when one of the lads asked if Helicopters counted, it was probably one of the few times in Ray's life that he was one upped.

Ray's schooling in England (Stanbridge Earls, in Romsey, near Southampton) had a great effect on his life and I often wonder if he identified with Harry Potter.

My Dad, who was also named Ray, quite often used to visit Ray III with me, Returning to England together from one of our trips to the Continent we were greeted by a grey bearded old Immigration Officer at Heathrow Airport - "Well here comes the three cheers again, Ray, Ray, and Ray". I realized then and there that we had been traveling a lot.

A few American stories;

Being a widower and a Senior Captain, I had a lot of spare time and used it in several independent business ventures. One of these was owning a restaurant on San Francisco Bay. Adjacent to the Restaurant we owned a large vacant lot, which was used for parking. This parking lot had an endless crop of anise, a tenacious weed, which insisted in growing throughout our parking lot. To get rid of this growth I bought three goats. One of Ray's jobs was to move these goats on tethers from time to time so that they could graze on the anise weed. One day during this operation, all three goats decided to run in different directions. At this same moment a Bread Truck arrived at the Restaurant to deliver the days supply of French Bread. While Ray was corralling one goat, the other two jumped into the Bread Truck and ate the ends off of dozens of loaves of French Bread. Ray grabbed the goats and hid them behind the Restaurant until the Bread Man had left, and didn't tell me of the incident for several days. I've often wondered what the Bread Man thought when he got to his next stop, he couldn't have been too happy, but over the years Ray and I had many a laugh over it.

When Ray was about in 2nd grade, he would stay st his friends Bart's house after school until I picked him up. One afternoon Bart's Mother brought Ray out of the house and said that she had just given Bart a good spanking and that I should do the same to Ray. I asked him what this was all about - His story: He and Bart were walking home and saw "FUCK" written on a wall. They decided to ask Bart's Mother what it meant, which they did, and Bart got spanked for his trouble. Ray informed me that he had no further interest in what the "F" word meant.

When Ray went to his High School Junior Prom, he had braces on his teeth. I was flying the night of his prom, so he arranged for his dates Father to pick him up and drop him home after the dance. This worked out well. The next day I asked him if they had kissed. He said no, because she had braces on as well and they were afraid that they would become intermeshed with wire and stick together.

We had a Mercedes Station Wagon, which Ray asked to use for his Senior Prom. We had transported the goats in it on several occasions, and there were goat droppings in the nooks and crannies. Ray cleaned out that car with a vengeance because, understandably, he was embarrassed about the raisin like goat droppings. I had that car for almost 25 years and sold it only last month, and there was still the occasional raisin rolling out from under the seats when we parted company.

When Ray was very young, we traveled quite a bit and I taught him to come running whenever I whistled, which he did until the last time I saw him. I used to write his name and local phone number on his arm in ballpoint pen, so he could show it to a policeman if he ever got lost. I would give him $5.00 to buy anything he wanted and let him explore wherever he pleased. Ray never spent the whole $5.00, and always returned change to me at the end of the trip; we never missed a flight. Ray asked questions of everybody and always remembered the answers, he was always a pleasure to travel with. An old friend said of Ray, he was always a hundred and ten percenter.

When Ray met Sophie he became a two hundred and ten per center, and when Rose arrived, he added another 200 percent. His attitude became, if possible, even more positive and dynamic, and as I said in my speech at their reception dinner:"Ladies and Gentlemen, friends and future in-laws, fill your glasses and standby for a toast, and please bear with me as I express a few gratitudes and wishes.

Suzanne and I wish to thank all of you for your presence and support in making Ray and Sophie's upcoming ceremony a happy and successful one, especially those of you who have come from across the world and across the country.

But most of all, I would like to thank Ray for being my son. he has provided me with pleasure, pride and blessings innumerable throughout his life, and I can only hope and pray, that when Ray and Sophie have children of their own, that they shall derive as much pleasure and satisfaction from their own children as I have derived from my own son, Ray. Now all of you who know Ray well can see, that since Sophie sailed into his life, that Ray's smile has been a little brighter, his step a little lighter and his career path much clearer. Already her gentle and helping hand on the tiller of his life is evident, and the results good and welcome. In short, it is self-evident that Ray and Sophie make a splendid crew.

And now, as they prepare to launch their ship of love upon the sometimes placid, sometimes story, often sailed, but seldom charted, sea of marriage, we offer this toast.

Suzanne and I, Our happy hearts agree, that Ray and Sophie were meant to be. And so, with our best, our very best, we set them free, to sail upon the Sea of Matrimony. We wish them shelter from the storm, a cosy fire to keep them warm, but most of all, when snowflakes fall, we wish them love. We wish them health, and more than wealth, we wish them Love, Happiness, and Success in their cruise through life. Bon Voyage."And so it came to pass, and as with so many good things, all too quickly.

The last we heard from Ray was Tuesday, February 24, 2004, it was Mardi Gras Evening and the Krews were rolling. There was a message on our answering machine, "Happy Mardis Gras - Laissez Les Bons Temps Rouler" - the Radiators were playing in the background. That night, due to the big storm that got Ray, we had a power failure and the machine erased his message. So Sad, so very, very Sad.

As Ray's father, I wish to thank you all of you who have had an input to his life, all of you have helped in building a remarkable human being and he in turn has helped shape others lives as well. I am a different person since his departure, I look back on things I should have done and did not, and I look back on things that I should not have done but did do.

What did I learn from my son? I believe most of all, to cherish our every blessing; they can so quickly vanish, like mist before a wind, to remain only in our memory;

It was most gratifying to see so many people who feel that Ray R. O'Neal III was one awesome guy; it was our rare privilege and pleasure to have known him, and as his Father, that makes me so very proud. Think what a better place this world would be if we could all be a little more like Ray. We'll miss him always but know that he is in a better place, where we'll all meet again. Ray we love you.

Your dear old, sweet old, kind old Pop.