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HomeNewsArchivesOn Island Profile: The Rev. Ray Joseph

On Island Profile: The Rev. Ray Joseph

May 8, 2006 – At 74, the Rev. Ray Joseph is spending his retirement years busier than many folks decades younger. In fact, Joseph's already retired several times.
He retired after serving stints in the U.S. Air force, the U.S. Navy and the U.S. Army Reserve, and he retired from the Health Department after spending long chunks of time separated by military service in the mental health field.
And when he was done with those fields, he went on to serve from 1992 to 1997 as pastor at Emmaus and Bethany Moravian Churches on St. John.
Now, he barely has a second to talk, what with posts on the St. Thomas-St. John District and Territorial Hospital and Health Facilities Corporation Board, the Council on Alcoholism St. Thomas (COAST) presidency and membership in the St. John American Legion Post. He's also a member of the Catholic Charities Board and an advisor to the Bethany Moravian Church Housing Corp.
"I never have enough time," he said.
Oh, and he's in the midst of moving from St. John to St. Thomas to make it easier for his wife, Shirley, to get to her job as director of the V.I. Resource Center for the Disabled. That's the job she took after she retired as principal of Julius E. Sprauve School.
However, he said he expects to be on St. John frequently, and plans to someday start building a house on land he owns in Coral Bay.
Joseph grew up between St. Thomas and Coral Bay, St. John, part of the extended Marsh family. He was one of six children born to Dassilda Marsh and Arthur W. Joseph.
He has tales to tell about those halcyon days.
"One of the things people remember about me is that my grandfather, Edward A. Joseph, gave me a bicycle," he said, speaking fondly about how he rode it to school every day.
Joseph also remembers his grandfather well. He said he hailed from China, with the Chinese name of Lum Chung. He said Moravian Missionaries brought his grandfather to St. Thomas.
Joseph said he wasn't doing particularly well in school – he flunked 9th-grade English – which is how he ended up as a machinist apprentice at the West Indian Co.
Around that same time, he signed up for his Social Security card. His number ends in 0005.
"That means I was the fifth person to get a Social Security card in the Virgin Islands," he said.
In 1953, he went off to Milwaukee because his brother was nearby in East St. Louis, Ill. After working first at a paper box factory, he got a job in the repair division at Harnis Faeger Manufacturing Co., which made large farm equipment.
In November of that year, he joined the Air Force do to his patriotic duty and because it promised a college education at the end of four years of service.
During those years, he got his GED and started college while stationed in Hawaii.
In 1959 he went to Moravian College in Bethlehem, Penn., taking a year off to serve as a pastor at the 4th Moravian Church in New York.
"My predecessor was from Jamaica and he introduced me to Shirley," he said, noting that his wife hails from Jamaica.
Seven months later, they got married. They are the parents of two children, Kimberly and Irma, and have one grandson, Joshua.
Joseph went back to Moravian College after his year in New York, but, put off by the requirement to study Greek, he transferred to Christian Theological Seminary in Indianapolis. Joseph added, however, that he did okay with Latin.
After graduation, he joined the Navy as a chaplain, serving 13 months in Vietnam. When the Navy began to downsize after the Vietnam War, he decided to come home after 18 years away.
He took a job in the local government's Health Department, working in mental health. He said he developed an employee assistance program on all three islands and then formed the V.I. Council on Alcoholism, which later became known as COAST.
But soon he got "itchy feet" and returned to the U.S. Army as a chaplain, serving at Fort Dix, N.J., and then in Korea, at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C., and in Germany.
He got out of the service in 1988 while in Germany, but stayed on for a year while his wife worked for the Army.
Joseph then returned to the Health Department in 1989, retiring in 1992.
Looking back on his life, he said his happiest moments came as a child when his entire extended family got together.
"We were all one big family," he said.
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