Raymond Bertchall Oliver, a McDonogh School mathematics department chairman and wrestling coach who was a World War II veteran, died Saturday at Towson's Edenwald retirement community. No cause of death was determined, family members said.
He was 90.
Born in Baltimore and raised on Poplar Grove Street, he received a McDonogh scholarship when he was 12. He lived on campus and helped milk cows. Friends said he never forgot the chance he was given to succeed and came back to serve the school, where he taught for 45 years.
"He was born in a hardscrabble life and he gave back to McDonogh tenfold," said the school's former headmaster, William C. Mules, who lives in Baltimore.
As a student, Mr. Oliver attempted to ride a horse; when he failed, he switched to wrestling. He went on to be elected in 2001 to the Maryland Chapter of the National Wrestling Hall of Fame. He was also captain of the varsity football team and was later a wresting referee.
In 1940, he sought and won an appointment to the Naval Academy. His headmaster, Louis E. Lamborn, wrote in a recommendation, "This boy is one of the finest we have ever had at the school."
He graduated from the academy in 1944 and as an ensign was immediately assigned to the Pacific. According to a biography McDonogh School prepared, he was a gunnery officer aboard the battleship USS Texas, which was attacked by kamikaze bombers. He recalled providing gunfire support during the Battle of Iwo Jima and seeing Marines raise the American flag atop Mount Suribachi.
"He was proud of his role of bringing the troops home as much as anything he did in the war," said his son, Craig S. Oliver of Silver Spring. "He made many trips back and forth across the Pacific to do this."
In 1947, he returned to Baltimore and joined the McDonogh faculty as a mathematics teacher. That year he also met his future wife, Evelyn Dorothy Funk, who was a teller at a downtown bank. The couple lived on the school campus and raised their children there.
"Mr. Oliver was a supremely patient and methodical teacher," said a former student, George Carter, who lives in Mullica Hill, N.J. "I was never very confident in math, but he walked me through trigonometry, step by step, until I figured it out. He demystified the subject very well. One of his favorite expressions was, 'This is so simple, it's just trained-ape work.'"
Other friends recalled his ability to help students.
"Ray Oliver was the quintessential teacher and coach. He was insistent, demanding, clear-headed, precise, goal-oriented and competitive," said the school's retired dean of faculty, Hugh Burgess, who lives in Towson. "He was unassuming, compassionate, infinitely fair and dedicated to reaching out to the kid in trouble."
Friends said he anonymously paid for wrestling camp for students who could not afford the expense.
"Mr. Oliver, who was known as Mr. O or Coach O, was a mentor to many a McDonogh wrestler," said a former student, Rob Smoot, now a McDonogh teacher who lives in Reisterstown. "He loved the sport of wrestling and appreciated what it could do to build character and make men out of boys. He was more concerned with making his wrestlers good students and good citizens than he was about wins and losses.
"But don't get me wrong," said Mr. Smoot. "He was a fierce competitor. Mr. O loved to greet us wrestlers with an arm drag just to see if we were ready to react."
In the summer of 1947, Mr. Oliver visited the Maryland State Fair at Timonium to seek a job to supplement his teaching income. Friends said he became friends with the owner of the fair's midway concessions and was soon managing the vendor's business affairs. He returned year after year and was later hired to manage admissions at the fair.
"He worked huge hours — 15-hour days. We kept a cot in the admissions office for him. He was one-of-a-kind," said Howard "Max" Mosner, president of the Maryland State Fair and Agricultural Society, who lives in Manchester. "He accepted the responsibility for the money and he was going to make sure everything was accounted for."
Mr. Oliver often recruited students and wrestlers to work the admissions gates at the fairgrounds.
"Much like his days at McDonogh, Ray often saluted his troops at the gates with a high forearm and tight fist," Mr. Mosner said.
A memorial service will be held at 11 a.m. Saturday at McDonogh's Tagart Memorial Chapel, 8600 McDonogh Road in Owings Mills.
In addition to his son, he is survived by daughter Victoria Wineke of Owings Mills. His wife of 63 years died in 2011.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun