OCEAN CITY – Ocean City and the entire surrounding area lost one of its greatest assets this week when long-time public servant and Air Force hero Ray Paul McLaughlin passed away at age 90 at the Harrison Senior Living facility in Snow Hill.
McLaughlin was a selfless public servant in the resort area who touched thousands of lives through his involvement with countless charitable organizations and fraternal societies during the latter phase of his life in Ocean City following a distinguished decades-long career in the Air Force. The former Ocean City Citizen of the Year in 1989 was one of the founding members of the Ocean City Paramedic Foundation and a long-time member of Ocean City Lions Club and Ocean City VFW Post 8296 among others.
McLaughlin lived a fascinating life in the Air Force prior to his retirement and relocation to the Ocean City area several decades ago and should be remembered as much for his heroic military career as his vast record of public service in the resort area later in life. He was an Air Force pilot from 1939 to 1962 and achieved the rank of Lieutenant Colonel. He survived three airplane crashes during his career, once escaping the Nazis during World War II by walking through Yugoslavia.
He was a member of the Royal Order of the Caterpillar, an exclusive club whose members made unscheduled, unplanned parachute jumps from a plane. The name is derived from a connection to caterpillars, or silkworms, because silk is used to make parachutes.
Upon retirement from active duty in 1962, McLaughlin worked in the office of the Joint Chiefs of Staff from 1962 to 1973. He was instrumental in the first application of computer technology to the defense of the United States.
After his distinguished and heroic military career, McLaughlin moved to the resort area with his wife, Betty Jean Cherry McLaughlin, who preceded him in death in 2005, and the couple quickly became fixtures in their new community. He was a member of the Sinepuxent American Legion Post 166 in Ocean City and coordinated the organization’s annual Christmas Food Drive. He was also a member of the Ocean City VFW Post 8296.
McLaughlin was also an instrumental member of the Ocean City Lions Club, where he became a Melvin Jones Fellow, the highest honor bestowed on a member by the Lions Club International Foundation. The honor is the highest form of recognition to acknowledge an individual’s dedication to humanitarian service. An avid fisherman, McLaughlin was also a steady fixture at the Ocean City Marlin Club for dozens of years.
McLaughlin was also one of the founding members of the Ocean City Paramedic Foundation, joining founder Dick Pairo at the beginning in 1980. Pairo this week fondly recalled bringing McLaughlin into the fold at the outset of the formation of the foundation.
“Shortly thereafter, I met Ray and his wife at the Marlin Club and asked him to come on board,” he said. “He agreed and became an important part of the foundation for the next 20 years.”
Pairo said McLaughlin was always the official greeter and ticket-taker at the foundation’s annual Character of the Year awards.
“He was a real hands-on guy, always in the middle of everything,” he said. “He had such an even temperament and he knew everybody and always worked behind the scenes.”
Like many other of McLaughlin’s friends and colleagues around the resort area, Pairo said this week his passing has left a void in the community.
“He was an outstanding gentleman and a true asset to this community,” he said. “He will be sorely missed.”
Ocean City American Legion Post 166 Commander “Sarge” Garlitz fondly recalled meeting McLaughlin dozens of years ago and remembered swapping stories about the service with him.
“I met Colonel Ray 20 years ago from coming into the Post,” he said. “We talked about his experiences as a B-24 pilot and when he was shot down. He was a very respected gentleman in Ocean City and the Air Force community.”
Garlitz said his relationship with McLaughlin continued over the years and fondly recalled chatting with the war hero during his breaks from service at Dover Air Force base.
“While stationed at Dover Air Force base during Desert Storm, I would come to Ocean City on my day off,” he said. “We would talk for hours about the war and the happenings around the globe.”
Old friends and colleagues recognized McLaughlin’s dedication to service in the Ocean City community this week, including former Ocean City mayor and now Delegate Jim Mathias, who crossed paths with him several times over the years.
“He was a living legacy in our area,” he said. “When you talk about community service and leaving your mark, Ray McLaughlin positively left his mark on our community. He had his hands in everything and he always gave selflessly of himself.”
Mathias said McLaughlin provided inspiration with his selfless dedication to service.
“He was an inspiration and continues to be an inspiration,” he said. “Ray was one of those rare guys that just made everything around him a little better. It’s a lesson for all of us.”