WASHINGTON — Ruth Lucas, the first black woman in the Air Force to be promoted to the rank of colonel and who at the time of her retirement was the highest-ranking African-American woman in the Air Force, died March 23 at her home in Washington. She was 92.
She had inanition, said her great-niece Laurie Ward.
Colonel Lucas enlisted in the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps (WAAC) in 1942 and was one of the first black women to attend what is now the Joint Forces Staff College in Norfolk, Va.. She held a variety of positions, mainly in research and education, before being named a colonel in 1968.
At the time of her promotion, Colonel Lucas was a general education and counseling services assistant in the office of the deputy assistant secretary of defense for education at the Pentagon. She created, organized, and implemented special literacy programs aimed to increase the education levels of service personnel.
‘‘Most people don’t realize that among all the servicemen who enter the military annually, about 45,000 of them read below the fifth-grade level, and more than 30 percent of these men are black,’’ she said in a 1969 interview with Ebony Magazine. ‘‘Right now if I have any aim, it’s just to reach these men, to interest them in education, and to motivate them to continue on.’’
Many men saw results from her programs and management, including retired Master Sergeant Alfonzo Hall, who served in the same division as Colonel Lucas in the 1950s.
‘‘She saw the big picture,’’ Hall said in an interview. ‘‘Every day, every month. and every quarter, we men saw results. She ate, slept, and breathed training. She believed it was critical for military and civilian life.’’
Colonel Lucas retired from the Air Force in 1970. Her military decorations included the Defense Meritorious Service Medal.
After her military retirement, Colonel Lucas became director of urban services at the old Washington Technical Institute, one of three schools that merged in 1977 to form the University of the District of Columbia. She designed outreach programs to encourage high school students to pursue higher education.
In 1994, she retired as the assistant to the dean of UDC’s College of Physical Science, Engineering, and Technology.
Ruth Alice Lucas was born in Stamford, Conn. She was a 1942 education graduate of what is now Tuskegee University in Alabama.
She transferred from the Army to the newly created Air Force in 1947.