In 1963, Dr. Dixy Lee Ray (1914-1994) accepts the
directorship of Seattle's Pacific Science Center, which is in desperate need of
funding and strong leadership. She serves for nine years and is widely credited
with its survival.
Ray, an associate professor of zoology at the University of
Washington, had served as a member of the science advisory board for the United
States Science Exhibit at Century 21, the 1962 Seattle World’s Fair. After the
fair, the exhibit building – with its distinctive “space Gothic” arches – was
renamed the Pacific Science Center. As director of the center, Ray brought in
new exhibits that de-mystified science and made it more accessible to the
general public. She did so despite the protests of some of her colleagues in
the scientific community, who objected to the idea of popularizing science.
"I did my best to mold that institution into a scientific facility to
which people from any walk of life could go for answers to scientific questions
that puzzled them,” she said later. “I'm happy and pleased ... that the science
center is a permanent feature of Seattle" (Seattle Post-Intelligencer).
In 1972, President Richard Nixon (1913-1994) appointed Ray to the Atomic Energy Commission, even though her background was in marine biology, not nuclear physics. She served as chairman of the commission from 1973 until it was disbanded in 1975. Later that year, President Gerald Ford (1913-2006) named her Assistant Secretary of State for Oceans, International Environment, and Scientific Affairs, but she resigned after only six months, complaining that Secretary of State Henry Kissinger (b. 1923) ignored her and she did not have sufficient staff to get her work done.
Ray was elected governor of Washington state, as a Democrat, in 1976. She served one term before being defeated, in the Democratic primary, for re-election in 1980.