MANCHESTER >> Ray Smith, who turns 90-years-old on June 19, knows what he wants for his birthday: 90 women. And his wife, Carolyn, hopes he gets them.
Ray, a walker in the annual Komen Vermont Race for the Cure for the past dozen years – "My wife got me into it. She's been one of their volunteer treasurers forever," – is the captain of Ray's Girls, one of the Vermont Race's larger teams. "In 2013 we had 11 members. In round numbers, last year we had about 42."
Originally from New Jersey, Ray and Carolyn Smith have had homes in Manchester for the past 45 years and have been year-round residents since Ray's retirement from the packaging-printing industry in 1996. Like not many other slim, nattily-attired gentlemen of advanced years (think Sir Patrick Stewart with more age, less height, round glasses, and a distinct New York-Metro accent) Ray spends his spare time as a handyman, doing light carpentry and minor repairs.
"I do it for fun, primarily," he said, "But I earn money."
And that, oddly enough, is how Ray began to grow his team.
"Quite a few of the people I do work for, their husbands aren't too handy and I kind of fill a spot for them. I develop good relationships with them," he said. "And Carolyn does, also," he hastens to add.
"In early 2013 I was talking to one of my clients, she happens to be an artist, and I was telling her about the race and I said 'Why don't you walk with me this year?' And as I said that, I said 'oh, and I'll talk to Judy and maybe she'll join us,' etc., etc., and that's how the whole thing started."
Ray, in fact, didn't even know he'd started a team. "It was kind of a joke, really," he explained. "We wore t-shirts, and I took some pressure sensitive labels and wrote 'I'm Ray's Girl' on them and put them on the backs of the shirts."
"But, it happened to be a very hot sunny day, very humid, and at the finish line, I realized that the labels were still out on the course, back around the three mile mark." Still, it was a great day, he remembered, and they all shared a glass of champagne to salute their achievement, and that was that. Or so he thought.
Over the next year, at cocktail parties and social events, Ray, who habitually dons a beautifully knotted bow tie for such occasions, would sometimes recount his race exploits to the masses. Invariably, one or two women would mention that they'd be interested in walking along next time and so, a team was born. Ray's Girls now round the course in fetching sky blue t-shirts - no more stickers to come undone - each emblazoned with the team name and a prominent pink bow tie right up front.
But, for Ray, it's not all about style. It's about time and money, too. Time-wise, the man's no slouch; in 2015, 89-year-old Ray took 4th Place in the Top 10 Male Walkers Overall category with a time of 45:54. To put that in perspective, the 3rd Place Male Walker was a 53-year-old with a time of 44:21 and 5th Place was taken by a comparatively wet-behind-the-ears 45-year-old with a time of 47:59.
As proud as he is of those numbers, Ray's most concerned about the numbers in the bottom line. Accordingly, and in keeping with the historic nature of this year's event, Ray has set a lofty team fundraising goal of $5,000 to benefit women, men and families in Vermont and New Hampshire who are fighting the fight against breast cancer. "And really," said Ray, "isn't that what it's all about?"
To join Ray and Ray's Girls' in their historic "90-for-90" bid for greatness at the 2016 Komen Vermont Race for the Cure, or to pledge money to the team's cause, visit komenvtnh.org.
Captain Ray Smith with Ray's Girls team members, 2015.