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Ray Toler - Class of 2021

Ray Edward Toler was born in 1942 in Detroit, Michigan, to Ralph and Neva Toler, both originally from Texas. Though born in a foreign land, he has always considered himself a “native-born Texan” and the family returned to the state at the end of World War II.
Ray spent his childhood in Marlin, Texas, and was highly self-motivated, getting his first job at age
nine selling newspapers and later working at the local grocery and as a fireman with the Marlin Fire Department. He was highly active in Boy Scouts, earning the rank of Eagle Scout and being elected to the Order of the Arrow, the organization’s highest honor. When starting high school, he tried out for the basketball and baseball teams, which would lead to a long and successful career as a musician. Ray was selected three times for the Texas All-State Band, as well as the All-State Choir. His musical achievements and academic performance were rewarded with multiple scholarships to Texas Christian University.

At TCU, Ray performed as principal trombonist in the Horned Frog Band, the Concert Band, the Jazz Ensemble, the Symphony Orchestra, and the Opera Orchestra. He was a member of Kappa Kappa Psi and Phi Mu Alpha Sinfonia, served as the Student Director of the Horned Frog Band, and was selected by his peers as the most outstanding musician in his senior year. In 1963, Ray was selected as principal trombonist of the National Intercollegiate Band.

In addition to his TCU roles, Ray also performed professionally with several Dallas/Fort Worth dance bands, the pit orchestra for Casa Mañana, the Miss Fort Worth and Miss Texas pageants, the Fort Worth Orchestra, Six Flags over Texas and, in 1965, with the Stan Kenton Orchestra.

While at TCU, Ray met and fell in love with Catherine, another trombonist in the Horned Frog Band. The two were married in 1964, just before he embarked on his planned career as a music educator. Ray became a high school band director in Weatherford, Texas that fall, and his dance band was awarded AAA Best-in-Class in the prestigious Brownwood Jazz Festival. The escalating war in Vietnam, however, would cut his time in Weatherford short.

Ray enlisted in the United States Air Force in 1966 and was named the top graduate in his basic training class of more than 5,000. It was a good start to a career that would last another 23 years. His first assignment was with the Air Force Band of the West in San Antonio. While there, Ray joined forces with his good friend, trumpet player and fellow TCU alumnus, Ron Pucket, who had been assigned to the 4th Army Band at nearby Fort Sam Houston. The two formed a joint Army/Air Force dance band that was immediately acclaimed. The band performed for the TBA in 1967.

In addition to his responsibilities as principal trombonist, Ray was afforded the opportunity to rehearse the Lackland concert band. In recognition of both his musicianship and leadership skills, he was soon asked to audition for a band officer position in Washington, D.C., and did so both as a trombonist and as a conductor. Col. Arnald Gabriel informed him that he had passed
both auditions and needed to decide which he wanted to be; he chose conducting.

Ray graduated from Officers Training School in 1968. Typically, new band officers are first assigned to a deputy role in an Air Force Band, but he was immediately assigned as Commander and Conductor of the Air Force Band of Flight at Wright-Patterson AFB, Ohio, a 60-piece ensemble. While there, he was nominated twice by the Air Force Logistics Command as one of the 12 Outstanding Young Men of America.

Following his command in Ohio, Ray attended Squadron Officer School in Alabama, and then moved to his next command of the Air Force Band of the Pacific at Clark AFB in
the Philippines. This band had the important role of providing support and morale to troops stationed all over Southeast Asia, and the group spent roughly 20 days each month in “the zone,” including Vietnam, Thailand, Taiwan, Guam, South Korea, and many other locations. The band performed not only concert and military music, but also popular music of the day with the incredibly well-received “Soul Show.” Additionally, the band backed Bob Hope on two Christmas tours.
An important part of Ray’s role at Clark was working closely with the U.S. State Department’s outreach programs to countries in the area, particularly with Ambassador Unger of Thailand, who wanted to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the King of Thailand’s ascension to the throne. The King, Bhumibol Aduladei (“The People’s King”) was also a composer and musician, but Ambassador Unger was able to provide only a small book of lead lines and lyrics.

Ray and his chief arranger, Lleweln Matthews, took this book and produced and recorded twelve arrangements, initially pressing 5,000 records. The album was so successful that it ended up having more than 50,000 copies produced.
A gold record was presented to the king by then-Captain Toler and Ambassador Unger in a private audience, and a strong relationship was formed. The King, a saxophonist and graduate of the Berklee College of Music, would often play with the band when they were in Bangkok or Chaing Mi.
With an intense travel schedule including many locations in the conflict zone, it was inevitable that the band would also face some distressing moments. Some of these included falling under gunfire, rocket attacks, and emergency landings on foamed runways because the plane was on fire. On a trip to Da Nang, Ray was given an immediate recall order to return the band to the flight line for emergency evacuation. It was the final day of the war; the day Saigon fell.

Ray, Catherine, and their three sons, Ray Jr.,
Eric, and Bryan, returned to the U.S. soon after and headed to New Jersey where Ray took command of the AF Band of the East at McGuire AFB from 1973 to 1975. While there, he earned his Masters of Music & Conducting from Trenton State College, The College of New Jersey, graduating summa cum laude. Next, he commanded the AF Band of Mid-America at Scott AFB, Illinois from 1975 to 1978, and then returned to San Antonio to lead the AF Band of the West at Lackland AFB from 1978 to 1981. He was promoted to Major and selected to attend Air Command & Staff College where he graduated with distinction.

Upon completion of this program, he took command of the Band of the Air Force Reserve in Warner Robins, Georgia. In 1985, Ray was promoted to Lieutenant Colonel and named Chief of Air Force Bands and Music by the Secretary of the Air Force and stationed at The Pentagon. His last official performance while in the Air Force was conducting the USAF Band and Singing Sergeants at the Sylvian Theater, located at the base of the Washington Monument. This 90 minute concert featured his favorite band repertoire. “This was an incredible and magical way to end a rewarding career serving our nation through music,” he recalls, “and I am fortunate to have had the opportunity to work with so many stellar musicians during that time!”

Ray’s military decorations include the Legion of Merit twice, the Meritorious Service Medal five times, the Air Force Commendation Medal three times, the Vietnam Service Medal with three stars, the Air Force Achievement and National Defense Service Medal, the Philippine Presidential Citation, an Expert Marksman ribbon and, somewhat surprisingly, the Good Conduct Medal.

The final chapter of Ray’s professional career began in August 1988, when he became only the fourth director of the nationally-famous Fightin’ Texas Aggie Band at Texas A&M University. During his 14 years as Director of Bands, he more than doubled the size of the program to over 700 students. Under his leadership, the bands of Aggieland earned an international reputation for excellence. The University Symphonic Band performed for the College Band Directors National Association and at two American Bandmasters Association conventions, made several appearances at the Texas Music Educators Association, and went on two European tours. The John Philip Sousa Foundation selected the Aggie Band for the prestigious Sudler Trophy in 2001.

Ray was privileged to have played for nine U.S. Presidents during his career: John Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson, Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, George H. W. Bush, Bill Clinton, and George W. Bush. While all of these were memorable moments, two stand out in particular. Ray played in a brass quintet at a prayer breakfast for John Kennedy the morning he was assassinated. A happier occasion was when Ray was commissioned to compose the “George Bush Presidential March” for the dedication of the George H. W. Bush Presidential library in 1997. President Bush sent a personal note of appreciation and presented Ray with a plaque during half-time at an Aggie football game.

Ray was elected to membership in the American Bandmasters Association in 1997. He has served in several leadership roles for various organizations including Chairman of the George S. Howard Citation of Musical Excellence for Military Concert Bands, a vice president for the John Philip Sousa Foundation, and president of both the Southwest Conference Band Directors and Big XII Band Directors. His career, successes, and contributions have been recognized and honored by multiple organizations, including being named to the TCU Band Hall of Fame, the Distinguished Music Alumni from the College of New Jersey, Who’s Who in America and the International Who’s Who in Music.
Not long after retiring from his role at Texas A&M University, Ray lost his wife, Catherine, to cancer. He later reconnected with another TCU alumnus and friend, Michaeleen, who had recently suffered a similar loss. The two had dated briefly in college, and soon rekindled their earlier romance. They married in 2004 and Ray takes great joy in his expanded family, adding Michaeleen’s daughters, Holly and Michael Ann, their husbands, three daughter-in-laws, 16 grandchildren, and (so far) three great grandchildren. Ray and Michaeleen enjoy welcoming and entertaining friends and family at their lake home in north Texas. He is a devout Christian and Stephen Minister who remains active in both his church and community.

A final note from Ray: “I want to thank Phi Beta Mu for this great honor! I also thank the mentors and friends who both facilitated and contributed so fundamentally to my success: my high school band director, Hal Spenser, TCU band director James Jacobsen, Joe Tom Haney, Colonel Arnald Gabriel, Colonel John Bourgeois, Eldon Janzen, and Dr. Timothy Rhea. Finally, I would like to give my heartfelt thanks to the many amazingly-talented musicians I have had the privilege of working with throughout my career.”

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