By LISA BICKNELL
CV&T News Editor
Ray Witt walked to the nursing home to see his wife almost every day until very recently.
Ray Witt took very seriously his vows to love Eunice Hutchinson “for better or for worse, in sickness and in health” when they married on December 27, 1945—more than 73 years ago.
Ray is now 98 years old, and until May, he cared for his wife at their home. As her health continued to decline, Eunice had to be admitted to the local nursing home. Eunice, born on August 29, is 95.
But Ray is still committed to loving and serving his wife any way he can.
From their home on Elizabeth Street, Ray walked there to see her almost every day until just recently when he became sick and developed a cough. It was also extremely hot, so his neighbor, Kay Young, began to drive him to the nursing home and pick him up later in the day.
Ray has suffered several heart attacks, or episodes when his heart stopped, over the decades, but he is determined to keep going.
At the nursing home, he walks eight “laps” up and down the halls, which he was told is a mile.
He religiously drinks a half gallon of water each day, and he is careful to maintain his weight between 123 and 125 pounds.
Ray was raised at White Oak, one of six boys born to Arthur and Stella Witt. He also had two sisters. Longevity seems to be a family trait; Ray’s sister Opal lived to be 94, and his mother also lived into her nineties.
After his brother Eugene died last November, Ray is the only one of his siblings left.
Ray was serving in the Navy during World War II when he and Eunice got engaged.
He had volunteered to join the service in 1942, when he was working at a store owned by Bruce Calmes.
His name was on the draft board at the American Legion, and he knew he was subject to be drafted. But Ray has never been a man to shirk his duties, so he went ahead and volunteered to join the Navy.
The Navy had made a call for 100 men, and the local Legion had committed to provide nine of them. At least nine volunteered, but when Ray reported for duty, he was told, “They all backed out but you.”
During his years with the military, he made seven round trips across the North Atlantic, in the USS Gherardi DD-637. He was on convoy duty, and his ship delivered both supplies and personnel. He was there for the invasion of Sicily.
He says every time they would set sail, he would get seasick. He finally mentioned it to a superior, and “in no time” he got switched to the USS Bering Strait, a much larger ship and a sea plane tender.
Ray was eventually assigned to the Pacific where the waters were less choppy, and he served in Iwo Jima and Okinawa. He was in Japan when they surrendered.
Working as an electrician’s mate, Ray was eventually transferred to another ship and sent by train to the Great Lakes were he received boot camp training.
In 1945, he was released, based on points he had acquired during his years of service. He made it home in time for Christmas, but he and Eunice decided to stay with their families for the holiday.
However, on Dec. 27, they were married by “Brother Dennis,” pastor of the Church of God on Broadway. Their mothers were there to witness the wedding.
Ray worked for the railroad for a while, until work ran out, then he was hired by Avon in Lexington. Eunice was clerk for Irvine City Hall for many years, and she retired from there.
In 1955, they secured a VA loan and built their home on Elizabeth Street.
Ray and Eunice had two children, Danny and Lois Jane. Danny served in the Vietnam War, and eventually died after being exposed to Agent Orange.
“Janie,” their daughter, keeps a close eye on her parents, with neighbor Kay’s help.
Kay is amazed by Ray’s dedication to his wife. She said he sometimes tells her, “She’s my sweetheart.”
“I love her,” says Ray. “That’s what I’m supposed to do.”
Ray is also devoted to his church. He attends River Drive Christian Church as often as he can, and he sometimes leads the singing. He’s particularly fond of “Victory in Jesus.” So much so, that folks at his church call the old hymn “Ray’s song.” A framed copy of the lyrics is displayed on a table in his living room.
Before the congregational singing begins, Ray likes to play “Glory to His Name/Down at the Cross” on his harmonica.
Ray says he gave his heart to the Lord when he was ten years old. After those years in the military, he felt the need to rededicate his life, and he’s never looked back.
Today, at 98, Ray’s dedication to his faith—and his sweetheart—remain strong.