Alum Ray Cole’s art hobby changes form after retirement
Ray Cole (B.A., 1956) has had an artistic interest for as long as he can remember, but it wasn’t until he moved to the small town of Carpinteria, California after retirement that his hobby took a new form.
“I seem to remember playing with paints even when I was just a kindergartener,” Cole said. “It’s always been a part of my life.”
Cole has dabbled in oil painting, acrylics, pen and ink drawing, and even scratchboard for fun. He had never sold his artwork until about 15 years ago when he decided to give watercolors another try.
“Up until then, I had not really been able to do good watercolors and suddenly they just worked,” Cole said. “Everything I touched seemed to turn out nice and for the first time in my life, people actually said they would like to buy them.”
Cole started painting local scenes in Carpinteria and now has more than 100 works of the city that he describes as being like picture postcards. Although hesitant at first, Cole was coerced recently into creating a coffee table book that displays about 94 of his paintings.
“I focused on Carpinteria because I thought it had a good chance to sell and all of a sudden it’s selling really well,” Cole said. “I didn’t expect to be an author; that’s the last thing I thought I would be.”
Cole is also the author of an autobiography that begins in 1930 at his birth in England and was last updated in August 2012. It chronicles his discovery of a long-lost twin brother, his move to Seattle, his two-year stint in the U.S. Army, his diagnosis of polio, his 40 year career in advertising, and his love for his wife and children (among other life events).
The book is titled “Lucky Limey” after a nickname he received in his first class at Ballard High School shortly after arriving in Seattle. Since his last name starts with ‘C’ and the class was seated alphabetically, Cole was in the front row and called on first to share the score of his botany quiz.
“I didn’t know how to do it properly in America, so I did what I would have done in England and jumped to my feet and said, ‘Teacher, I scored 49 and a half,’” Cole said, “at which point, everyone in the room recognized my accent, so they all just called me Limey from that point on. I don’t think most of the kids in high school ever knew my name.”
And if asked where the lucky part comes in, he will say that he has just been extremely lucky in life. Everything always works out.
Cole was awarded a scholarship to attend a commercial arts school for a year, so he went to the Burnley School of Art before he began to run out of money. When he received a draft letter in the mail, he decided to join the U.S. Army after they told him he would be deported if he didn’t join. He wrote that it was during this time that he learned how to drink and smoke – and also that he needed more schooling.
“We had a ball in the service. We seldom did anything serious,” Cole joked. “When I got out I wanted to do something more, particularly in advertising, so I was able to transfer most of the Burnley Art School credits to the University of Washington.”
Cole finished his education at the UW School of Communication, with a focus on advertising, and met his wife during this time at a bar on NW 85th Street.
“It used to be called the Four Stop because in those days it was one of the few spots in that part of town where there was actually a four-way stop sign,” Cole said. “They used to have a really great combo and a nice dance floor. It was just a fine place to go for an evening, and one night I bumped into this lady who turned out to be my wife.”
He graduated in 1956 after they got married and held a series of advertising jobs in California before landing at Sunkist Growers for 17 years. He made his way up in the business, running all the marketing and sales promotion for the company all around the world, resulting in many traveling opportunities. For Cole, trying to choose a favorite place is easier said than done.
“If I had to pick a city today to live in, I would say Sydney, Australia…it’s English-speaking, easy transportation, and wonderful people,” Cole said. “For color I would pick Bangkok, Thailand… For scenery I would pick anywhere in Norway.”
But Cole still gives the trophy to Seattle for the most picturesque and to Southern California for being the most comfortable in terms of climate, mood, attitude, and style. He was diagnosed with polio at age 29, which has made getting around more difficult.
“In recent years I have fallen and fallen and fallen to the point where I don’t think there’s a bone in my right leg that hasn’t been broken,” Cole said. “Now I’m confined to either a walker or a wheelchair to get around any place, but I had 80 some years without too much problem, so we’re doing okay.”
His wife started her own health battle in 2006 when she was diagnosed with Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia (CLL), a form of blood cancer.
“For 57 years my wife and I had a wonderful time together, but two years ago she died of cancer and now I’m sitting here kind of all alone in a very comfortable little house,” Cole said.
Although she never read the autobiography that Cole wrote because she didn’t see the value of sharing such personal information, Cole wrote, “Everything I have done; everything I have been; everything I have enjoyed came as a gift from Mary.”
Their two children, who they adopted, have kids of their own now. Cole keeps in touch with his twin brother, who he found out about when he was 11 years old and still lives in England.
Luckily, Cole has been staying busy painting and selling his coffee table book – all the while with a serene view of the ocean from his home in Carpinteria.