Ray Grady Beasley passed away in Helena on February 1, 2018, after celebrating his 88th birthday with his family.
Ray was born on February 1, 1930 in Denver, Colorado, and was adopted at four months of age, by Austin and Helena Beasley. The new family moved to New York and on to El Paso, Texas. When he was 7, Ray moved with his mother and new step-father to Santa Fe and then to Los Angeles.
In 1948 he graduated from Belmont High School and directly entered the U.S. Army Air Force. Trained as a Winter Survival Expert in Juneau and Anchorage Alaska, he become a trainer himself in McCall, Idaho, preparing B-36 Air Crews for deployment to Libya, and CIA Agents for winter insertion behind enemy lines in the Korean War.
At the end of his enlistment in 1952, he walked down the road to the U.S. Forest Service Smoke Jumper Base. By 1955 he was an experienced Squad Leader and Spotter, known for his deliberate and somber preparation of parachute packs.
Taking advantage of the G.I. Bill, in 1958 Ray graduated from the University of Idaho with a Bachelor’s of Science Degree in Zoology. While still loving the summer smoke jumping, he was asked if he wanted to make $850 a month during the winter. Ray said, “yes” and became involved in the Clandestine Air Operations of the CIA.
From Thailand he was a rigger and parachute cargo delivery specialist on 14 hour, unlit, radio-silence high-altitude flights into Tibet. That work was recognized when the painting, “Khampa Airlift to Tibet” was dedicated in May 2014 at CIA Headquarters in Langley, VA, which Ray was able to attend. Those winter CIA-Smokejumper activities included training Cuban paratroopers for the failed 1961 Bay of Pigs Invasion. Before that took place, however, Ray and other smokejumpers were moved to Laos for the CIA’s “secret war.”
By 1964 Ray had stopped smoke jumping and had had enough of spy work; he became a textile engineer for the U.S. Forest Service at Fort Missoula. He was an outstanding industrial sewing specialist, called by some “The Tailor” because he did it all, including his own patterns. His work included inventing (patent belonging to the USFS) the “shake and bake” fire shelter blanket that has saved the lives of wildland firefighters, as well as designing the familiar bright yellow fire shirt, and making improvements to smokejumper parachute technology.
In 1962 Ray married Sharon Cary and adopted her two sons Randy and Rick. From this union were born daughters Sally and Heather. Ten years later the couple divorced, and Ray went on to perform the duties of a single dad to perfection.
During the installation service for a new priest at the Holy Spirit Episcopal Church, Ray met Jane Shull, and she swept him off his feet. They were married in June 1973, forming the “Shull-Beasley Bunch” with their combined seven children. Jane joined Ray in opening a clay company and art gallery in Missoula after he retired from the Forest Service. They later moved the art gallery to Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, and in 1984 sold the business and moved to Helena. Settling in a rustic cabin alongside Ten Mile Creek, they started the Birds & Beasley’s gallery/birding store, which has become a well-known downtown landmark.
Ray was preceded in death by his parents, sons Randy and Lee Allen, and his granddaughter, Sarah Tupper. He is survived by his wife Jane and their children: Brad (Kathy) Shull and children Peter and Erin; Scott (Lisa) Shull and children Jeff and Andrew; Brian (Jeannette) Shull and children Daniel and Christine; Sandy Shull (Jonda); Rick (Peggy) Beasley and children Madison and Graden; Sally (Gordon) Gettel and children Connor, Tyson, and Reagan; and Heather (John) Tupper and children Lena, Francie, and Auggie. He is also survived by 6 great-grandchildren.
A memorial service will be held at 4:00 p.m. Sunday, February 11th, at St. Peter’s Episcopal Cathedral, 511 N. Park, in Helena. A reception will follow the service in the fellowship hall in the lower level of the church. Memorials in Ray's name are suggested to the National Smokejumper Association Scholarship Funds (smokejumpers.com) or Montana Project Healing Waters, P.O. Box 1798, Helena, MT 59624 which is devoted to supporting veterans through fly tying, fly-fishing and outings. Please visit www.retzfuneralhome.com to offer condolences or share a memory of Ray.