Obituary - Dixy Lee Ray - Biology Teacher

Dixy Lee Ray
Biology Teacher 1938-1942

© Published on Monday, January 3, 1994

Dixy Lee Ray

Dixy Lee Ray, 79, Ex-Governor; Led Atomic Energy Commission

Dixy Lee Ray Dixy Lee Ray, former chairwoman of the Atomic Energy Commission and Governor of Washington, died yesterday at her home on Fox Island, near Tacoma. She was 79.

She had suffered for some months from a severe bronchial condition, said a friend, Lou Guzzo, who is a television commentator.

Dr. Ray, a marine biologist who championed the nuclear industry, was appointed by President Richard M. Nixon to the atomic commission in 1972, and served as chairwoman from 1973 to 1975. During her tenure, she raised eyebrows in the nation's capital by living in a mobile home and taking her dogs to the office.

In 1974, she underscored the finding of an Atomic Energy Commission study of nuclear power plant safety: that the chance of mass destruction from a reactor accident was as unlikely as that of a meteor striking an urban area. "There is no question that the nuclear industry comes off very well," she said.

She issued her latest no-nonsense commentary on nuclear issues on Thursday, when she dismissed reports about cold-war-era Federal radiation experiments as alarmist.

"Everybody is exposed to radiation," Dr. Ray was quoted by The Associated Press as saying, adding, "A little bit more or a little bit less is of no consequence." Criticizing Kissinger

The Atomic Energy Commission was eventually abolished and its duties were transferred to the new Energy Research and Development Administration. Dr. Ray was appointed by President Gerald R. Ford in 1975 as Assistant Secretary of State for Oceans, International Environment and Scientific Affairs.

She resigned from the post later that year, contending that Secretary of State Henry A. Kissinger had ignored her office on policy matters.

It was as a Democrat that Dr. Ray was elected in 1976 to one term as the only female Governor her state has had, becoming the nation's second woman to be elected Governor without succeeding her husband. Ella T. Grasso, a Democrat, had been elected Governor of Connecticut two years before.

Dr. Ray, after her surprise victory, said that she supported the Equal Rights Amendment but that women should "stop brooding about being a woman." She told women, "If you want to do something, then train yourself and you've got to be willing to work."

Governor Ray, 1977Governor Ray a conservative in fiscal matters and was praised by a lobbyist in the aircraft industry as "the best friend business ever had."

She also angered environmentalists with her support of nuclear power, unhampered growth and oil supertankers.

But she could also be stern in the environmental sphere. In 1979, she ordered the low-level nuclear waste dump at a Federal reservation in Hanford, Wash., one of only three in the nation, closed temporarily after inspectors had found that some radioactive material was being hauled in unsafe trucks.

In 1980, Dr. Ray herself faced a environmental problem when Mount St. Helens repeatedly erupted, ravaging parts of the state with volcanic mud flows, flooding and ash.

While Dr. Ray was Governor, the power of her intellect and her skill as a speaker gave her an aura of great competence. But she was sharp-tongued, highly unconventional for a politician in high office, and became entangled in disputes with reporters and with other public officials.

Dr. Ray was also burdened by disaffection in her own party going into the 1980 Democratic primary and suffered a startling defeat at the hands of State Senator Jim McDermott, who offered himself as "a Governor who listens."

She was christened Margaret at her birth in 1914 in Tacoma, but she later chose the name Dixy Lee. She climbed Mount Rainier, her state's tallest peak, at age 12 -- becoming the youngest girl to do so -- and went on to graduate in 1937 from Mills College, where she also earned a master's degree. She received a doctorate in zoology from Stanford in 1945.

She taught at schools in Oakland, Calif., from 1938 to 1942 and was an associate professor of zoology at the University of Washington from 1945 to 1976.

With Mr. Guzzo she wrote two books: "Trashing the Planet: How Science Can Help Us Deal With Acid Rain, Depletion of the Ozone, and Nuclear Waste (Among Other Things)," published in 1990, and "Environmental Overkill," published this year.

She is survived by her sisters, Marion Reid of Fox Island, Dr. Jean Ray of Long Beach, Calif., Julianna Strong of Salem, Ore., and Elvista Steele of Klatskanie, Ore.