Ray O’Neal , a loving husband, father, stepfather, grandfather, and the very best of friend , has bid farewell to us all at the age of 85. A California native, Ray was born on Christmas Day and passed away on the Fourth of July after a heroic fight against Parkinson’s disease and Lewy body dementia.
Ray attended Lowell High School in San Francisco and set his sights high to take on the world with characteristic enthusiasm, curiosity, and integrity. His life-long love of planes and flying led to a long career as a pilot, including service in the Mississippi Air Guard where his unit was called upon to aid in tragic campus riots in the state. He then joined the United States Air Force. Following his retirement, Ray lived in England working for the Secret Service. Ray also helped establish and operate an airport in Ghana. After returning to California, Ray flew for Howard Hughes, even flying Elvis Presley around from time to time. From Hughes Air West Ray joined Northwest Airlines (now Delta) flying Boeings until his retirement in 1991.
His passion for flying and travel never wavered, and Ray flew his micro-lite plane at every chance he could, including to rallies in Egypt, the Philippines, Thailand, South Africa, France, Spain, and a three month trip from Utah going south to the Grand Canyon, Monument Valley, and Lake Powell into Mexico. He also purchased a Chinese Nanchang CJ-6 fighter training plane in which he showcased his skill in many formation flying weekends with flying buddies. Ray sought adventure and romance and bought a home in South Africa where he followed the trail of Deneys Reitz, a famous Boer War hero. Ray married the love of his life, Sacramento girl Suzanne Wachhorst, in 1992 and they proceeded to travel the world together, spending part of many years in France, where they were married. They enjoyed a friendship base there that resulted in extraordinary adventures. Travel was always foremost in Ray’s agenda and there are not too many countries that he did not visit.
After living in Lafayette, California, Ray and Suzanne moved to Carmel in 1992 and then to Carmel Valley in 2007, where as usual Ray attracted a group of friends who became extended family to him. His love for his fellow bocce players, his interest in making wine, and his support of Suzanne’s Lyonshead Art Gallery and antique store kept him busy. Ray also owned Sam’s Restaurant in Benecia, California until fire struck and closed it down. Ray’s charisma and storytelling fascinated and delighted his friends and family alike. In fact, his life was so fully enjoyed that it is hard to believe that so much could happen in one lifetime. Ray loved his friends and was honored to be a part of the QB flying organization started by Jimmy Doolittle, the EAA Warbirds of America, and the Redstar Pilot Association. He was a member of the Calvary started by Doc Ricketts which still meets at Doc’s Lab on Cannery Row, Buckeye, the Beach Club, Carmel Valley Ranch, and the Hermanus Golf Club in South Africa. Last but never least, he loved his Wednesday afternoons amongst his bocce ball pals at the Holly Farm. Ray is survived by his loving wife Suzanne; his stepsons Justin Mathis and Ray Mathis; his step-daughter-in-law Alice Mathis and step-grandchildren Charlotte Mathis, Henry Hart and Alistair Hart; his daughter-in-law Sophie O’Neal and granddaughter Rose Ellen O’Neal, and his sister Robin O’Neal. He was predeceased by his parents, Ray and Ruth O’Neal, his beloved son Ray O’Neal, and his brother Bob O’Neal.
Celebration of his life will be private. In lieu of flowers, the family respectfully suggests a contribution to one of the following:
21 Lower Ragsdale Drive
Monterey, CA. 93940
Jacob’s Heart Children’s Cancer Support Services
680 W Beach Street
Watsonville, CA 95076