Y-12 National Security Complex Historian Ray Smith is retiring. Smith said he has been at Y-12 for 47 years, and he is retiring November 22.
Besides being Y-12 historian, Smith is also City of Oak Ridge historian and history columnist for The Oak Ridger newspaper, where he writes “Historically Speaking.” In 2012, he testified during a U.S. House of Representatives hearing on the legislation to create the Manhattan Project National Historical Park, which includes Oak Ridge; Los Alamos, New Mexico; and Hanford, Washington.
Smith has been Y-12 historian for about 10 years. He has also been a maintenance manager at Y-12.
“I have thoroughly enjoyed it,” Smith said this week.
After an overseas trip in August, Smith said he wants to travel with his wife Fanny.
“Fanny and I went to Switzerland, Austria, and Germany, and that made my decision,” Smith said.
Smith, who is a Vietnam veteran, said he will continue to write and be the Oak Ridge historian. He is vice president of the Oak Ridge Heritage and Preservation Association, and he was recently appointed to the Tennessee Historical Commission. He is a local leader helping to preserve the city’s history. He was friends with Bill Wilcox, the previous city historian who wrote a history of the former K-25 site that has been published posthumously with help from family members, Smith, and the Oak Ridge Heritage and Preservation Association.
At Y-12, Smith has given the history portion of tours to visitors and overseen the Y-12 History Center, which is at the plant’s New Hope Center. Y-12 has been doing tours for 12 years, and the U.S. Department of Energy public tours stop at the Y-12 History Center.
As part of public presentations that he makes, Smith said he tells a story of how he got the job at Y-12. During that story, he’s been saying he would be the Y-12 historian until he retired but that he wouldn’t retire.
“As of this week, I could no longer say it,” Smith said. Smith gave a presentation this week at Roane State Community College, where he shared stories from the “secret city” in a history class. (During World War II, Oak Ridge was a “secret city” as part of the top-secret Manhattan Project, a federal program to build the world’s first atomic weapons.)
Smith said he made 35 of those presentation last year to different groups, and he’s done 24 so far this year.
Smith started at Y-12 in Maintenance in September 1970 and made it up to the second-in-command, according to information from Y-12. When Lockheed Martin left in 2000, Smith started helping identify buildings throughout the site, and that led to his current job as historian.
Y-12 advocated for the Muddy Boot Award for Smith in 2006, and he won it in December 2013. The Muddy Boot Award is a tribute to people who, through their work and community activities, make East Tennessee a stronger region. It’s presented by the East Tennessee Economic Council.
Here is a summary of Smith’s accomplishments at that time:
Smith has been at Y-12 for more than four decades, and that provides him a deep understanding and appreciation of the heritage of Y-12 and the Oak Ridge community.
Smith joined Y-12 in 1970 as an electronics technician, but it wasn’t until 2005 that he joined the Office of Public and Governmental Affairs as the complex’s official historian—after demonstrating his indispensable knowledge of the plant during infrastructure reduction. Since stepping into his current role, Smith has helped open Y-12 to the public. From tours of select facilities and a newly updated history center, to video productions and countless public appearances, Smith has educated people around the country about Oak Ridge through his passion and dedication to preserving history.
As the Y-12 representative, Smith has testified in front of Congress in support of the Manhattan Project National Historical Park legislation. He has won several awards including DOE’s Award of Excellence in 1998 for managing and delivering the implementation plan training for an emerging maintenance management order to all DOE defense programs sites. His community service includes acting as an officer or board member for at least 20 different organizations.
During his congressional testimony in 2012, Smith said it is his job to make history come alive, and he highlighted the fascination that even schoolchildren experience when learning of the trials, tribulations, and success of the Manhattan Project. (Former Oak Ridge Mayor Tom Beehan also testified in 2012 on behalf of the Manhattan Project National Historical Park. You can read two more stories here and here.)
Information from Y-12 said Smith has been a tour guide for energy secretaries and National Nuclear Security Administration administrators, senators and representatives, and countless students and visitors. Among the sites viewed by visitors have been the Beta 3 calutrons used to create the fuel for America’s first atomic weapon during World War II.
Smith advised filmmaker Keith McDaniel on the documentary “Secret City—The Oak Ridge Story,” and he was also in the movie.
Smith has been a volunteer chaplain for the Oak Ridge Police Department, and he has been on the boards of charitable organizations such as Aid to Distressed Families of Appalachian Counties and been associated with the Boy Scouts of America.
Oak Ridge Today has asked Y-12 how Smith’s retirement will affect work at the Y-12 History Center and any other history-related efforts or tours and how Y-12 plans to replace Smith, and we will share that information when it becomes available.
More information will be added as it becomes available.
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