Ray Allen Belcher

Matthew Belcher
7 min readNov 23, 2020

With deepest sorrow I share the news that my father, Ray Allen Belcher, has died. He fought, but lost, a valiant battle against an aggressive form of prostate cancer. I’d like to share with you a little of his life story, some memories I have of him, and try to relate a little of the experience of being his son.

Dad baby

My father was born in Indianapolis, Indiana with two older brothers. His father, a veteran of WWII, a building contractor, and avid bowler, enjoyed spending winters out of the snowy Midwest and traveling around Florida. As my father told the story, one year they returned to Indiana and found their driveway covered in feet of snow. At that point, he turned the car back around, bought a motel on the beach, and never left Florida again.

Luckily for my mother, this is how he came to live in Seminole, Florida, where she met him while he worked at the bowling alley. They married young while my dad struggled to make a living as an electrical apprentice. A year later, when I showed up in my mother’s womb, they realized they needed to change their lives. That is how he started the greatest adventure of his life: enlisting in the US Air Force.

After basic training he was assigned to Misawa AFB in Japan where he helped to monitor Soviet submarine movements in and out of Vladivostok. While there, he began training as an avionics technician for what was then the hot new fighter jet, the General Dynamics F-16 Fighting Falcon. After completing that training, the rest of his Air Force career was tethered to that machine. I remember dinner table conversations about what bases we might be sent to depending entirely on the presence of F-16s. Our house was even decorated with them. We had a plastic model of an F-16 on the mantle, and a portrait of the jet and its namesake bird in the background.

Following the jet, we moved from Misawa (where my sister Sarah was born) to Eglin AFB (where Melody was born), back to Misawa, to Tyndall AFB near Panama City, FL, and then finally Moody AFB in South Georgia. For our family, the single hardest year was the year he was sent alone to South Korea. He never talked about it much, but I often wonder how he coped that year alone — especially in the early 90s when long-distance to Korea was so expensive we were only able to speak to him for a few minutes every week. One thing I know for sure — he spent a LOT of time on a bicycle. He came back from Korea the most fit I’d ever seen him.

As my dad rose through the NCO ranks to eventually become First Sergeant of his squadron, he told me the job he loved most was when he was a lower ranked TSGT. He was in charge of a group of 3–4 other technicians as a senior technician and they worked together to diagnose and fix aircraft. The First Sergeant job was probably too emotionally stressful. I remember he confided once that he did not enjoy the task of disciplining the newest airmen. He was always the first one called when someone screwed up but never got to be a part of successes.

When my grandmother was dying from Parkinson’s disease, my dad tried multiple times to get the Air Force to reassign him to MacDill AFB so he could be close to her and help with her care, but he was denied. When she died while we were in Georgia at Moody AFB, I think this finally severed his emotional connection to active duty service and he retired not long afterwards after 16 years.

We moved back to Seminole, Florida to live near our family again. My parents took the generous AF retirement benefits and opened a store — Once Upon a Child in Largo Mall. My dad always wanted to run his own business and he spent years going to night school to get his BA in business. I remember him telling me once “No one ever got rich working for someone else.” Sure, not exactly true, but it shows you where his mind was. While running a retail operation was the perfect fit for my mom — she loves talking to people and has a great sense for how a store should be organized — I don’t think dad’s heart was ever in the actual business. He liked running a business and doing the accounting but after a while I think he was just bored of it. He tried a few times to expand into new locations but for various reasons it didn’t work out and they decided to sell it.

During this time he re-enlisted to the Air Force Reserves to finish out 20 years of service and qualify for full veteran’s benefits.

After that he found a new position working with Blueline Mechanical in Accounts Payable which is where he worked until he couldn’t work any more. I think he was proud of that place. He often told me stories about the buildings the firm worked on and the people who worked in the warehouse.

If I had to point to one particular thing about my dad that had the most obvious influence on my life it would be his love of personal computers. He bought a Commodore 64 when I was a kid and I was obsessed. My 9th birthday cake was a computer. Before we had a floppy drive, I would beg him to literally input games by typing the BASIC from magazines. He was always getting great new computers when we could afford them and I tinkered with them constantly. When we got our first modem he made me install it. He subscribed to a second phone line for me when I was into BBSes. He loved the same PC games I did — especially Civilization. I remember hearing the music from that game after I went to bed at night. I can confidently say I would not have the career I do today without the early influence of his computer hobby.

Aside from computers, I remember dad enjoying a bunch of hobbies over the years. In Japan, he took me out a few times to search for ancient pottery shards near construction sites. He collected lots of things: baseball cards, football cards, comic books, classic toys. He was always a great bowler and I spent a lot of my childhood at the bowling alley on base. He loved camping and kayaking. He loved to follow sports and had a favorite in every season. Rays Baseball, Buccaneers football, and of course NASCAR.

He also spent a lot of time fixing our family cars — especially my first car which was broken half the time. When I was a kid, his ability to build things that didn’t fall apart and fix things was astounding to me. I remember trying to build a mousetrap-powered car in high school and I couldn’t keep it sturdy with duct tape. My dad took me to the garage and in 2 minutes with a drill and some screws it was perfect.

Above all things, dad was incredibly loving and supportive. He seemed to like nothing more than spending time with us and showing us the things he loved. I can barely remember him ever being angry. All my regrets growing up were never about the way he treated us, but the way I disappointed or hurt him. I was a bratty teenager at times and regret many of the things I said and did, but he always just shrugged it off and put up with my nonsense.

All I want is to love my kids as much as he loved us.

One more thing I wanted to share — my grandfather died when my dad was only 13 years old. Now that my own father has passed I’m shook by the realization that he experienced this grief as a child. It is unimaginable.

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