Air Force Col. Ruth Lucas, 92

Sunday, April 28, 2013
Ruth Lucas, the first African American woman in the Air Force to be promoted to the rank of colonel and who at the time of her retirement was the highest-ranking African American woman in the Air Force, died March 23 at her home in Washington. She was 92.

She had inanition and cardiac arrest, said her great-niece Laurie Ward.

Lucas enlisted in the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps in 1942 and was one the first black women to attend what is now the Joint Forces Staff College in Norfolk, Va. She held a variety of positions, mainly in research and education, before being promoted to colonel in 1968.

At the time of her promotion, Lucas was a general education and counseling services assistant in the office of the deputy assistant secretary of defense for education at the Pentagon.

She created, organized and implemented special literacy programs aimed to increase the education levels of service personnel.

“Most people don’t realize that among all the servicemen who enter the military annually, about 45,000 of them read below the fifth-grade level, and more than 30 percent of these men are black,” she said in a 1969 interview with Ebony Magazine. “Right now if I have any aim, it’s just to reach these men, to interest them in education and to motivate them to continue on.”

Many men saw results from her programs and management, including retired Master Sgt. Alfonzo Hall, who served in the same division as Lucas in the 1950s.

“She saw the big picture,” Hall said in an interview. “Every day, every month and every quarter, we men saw results. She ate, slept and breathed training. She believed it was critical for military and civilian life.”

Lucas retired from the Air Force in 1970. Her military decorations included the Defense Meritorious Service Medal.

“She looked at all people as people and tried to help them all,” Hall said.

Survivors include two great-nieces whom she helped raise as children, Laurie Ward and Elaine Ward, both of Washington.

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