Ray Willard Hooker, 107, passed away peacefully on July 5 at Riverside’s Heron Cove in Gloucester.
He was a former resident of Hampton. His wife, Mary Anne Mallison, and son, Willard Hooker Jr., preceded him in death, as did his parents, James and Rose Hooker, brother, Merle, and sisters, Aurel Willer and Louise Slavens.
Ray was born in a farmhouse in Warren County, Ind., on Jan. 3, 1906, and grew up in the small town of Pine Village where he was high school valedictorian. His interest in flying, and in learning how things work, led him to attend Purdue University. Ray joined the Purdue wrestling team—was Big Ten champion for two years, and named All-American in 1929. He graduated with a degree in mechanical and aeronautical engineering, and in 1930 was hired by NACA as a junior engineer.
Ray’s work at NACA/NASA brought him many satisfying challenges. In 1942, he was placed in charge of Langley Research Center’s construction section. He headed the design and construction of Langley’s West Area, which houses wind tunnels and the majority of the current research facilities. From 1945-1947, he was engineer in charge of the development of the Pilotless Aircraft Research Station at what is now NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility on Wallops Island.
In 1959, Ray was named co-manager of the project to develop tracking stations for Project Mercury, America’s manned space-flight program. He traveled the world negotiating the acquisition of land on which to build the radar stations that would track John Glenn’s historic space flight. In 1964, he was appointed NASA’s liaison in Australia, spending two years Down Under. Upon his return, he was attached to NASA headquarters in Washington, D.C., and worked on special projects. Ray retired in 1968.
He fulfilled his childhood dream of flying by teaching himself on a glider that he built with his fellow young engineers at Langley. He then co-owned and flew a series of open cockpit planes. Ray later developed a keen interest in sailing, and was active at Hampton Yacht Club, serving as commodore, and was founder of the junior sailing program.
Over the years, he and Mary Anne enjoyed many adventures on the Chesapeake Bay and abroad. Post-retirement, Ray took up golf (shooting his age at 83), continued to sail with friends and family, tinkered in his workshop, and learned to fly ultralight aircraft in his 90s.
He loved to mentor young people, and was an inspiration to many. Ray’s quiet, unflappable demeanor was a source of strength to his family and all who knew him.
Ray is survived by daughter, Anne Clark and her husband Robert of Schley, Va.; granddaughters, Elizabeth Fisher and husband Daniel of Easton, Md., Alice Krebs and husband William of Williamsburg, and Suzanne Corrywright and fiancé Douglas Green of Chippenham, U.K.; grandson, Robert Clark Jr. and wife Tracie of Norfolk; daughter-in-law, Carol Bender Atwater and husband Rick of Winston-Salem, N.C., and grandson, Christopher Hooker of Seattle, Wash. He also has six great-grandchildren, Jacqueline Ray and Katherine Fisher, Margaret and Augusta Grace Martien, and Fraser and Justin Corrywright.
A memorial service will be held Saturday, July 20 at 10 a.m. at Abingdon Episcopal Church, 4645 George Washington Memorial Hwy., White Marsh, Va.
Memorials may be made to the Gloucester Chapter of the American Red Cross, 6912 George Washington Hwy., Yorktown, Va. 23692 or to the Salvation Army, P.O. Box 267, Hayes, Va. 23072.