Ray Porter is not one to celebrate himself.
A 1973 graduate of Long Beach Poly, he’s spent the last 34 years working as a locker room attendant and campus security officer at his alma mater. In that time, the people who’ve worked with him have never heard him brag about himself or take credit for any of the things that have happened there. He was an assistant coach for the school’s football team for 17 years, winning five CIF championships. He was an assistant with the basketball team for five years, as well.
Really what Ray did in those 34 years was anything anyone needed. He unlocked doors, he listened to coaches vent, and he was a friendly ear for frustrated students who’d had a bad practice or a rough talk with a coach.
Ray’s greatest gift was the gift of his presence and his attention. I don’t know how many times I’ve walked into Poly to hear Ray congratulating a player on a great performance at a game the day before, or encouraging someone that they’d do better next time.
These are small kindnesses, and in Long Beach we take them for granted. I can think of a Ray Porter or two at every high school in the Long Beach Unified School District. But if you haven’t been on high schools across Southern California, let me tell you: most high schools don’t have people like that. We take it for granted that our kids go to high schools with great tradition, patrolled and run by people who understand that tradition and are a part of it.
I know that Ray would downplay his role in that tradition, and I’ve heard him do so on many occasions. But great coaches aren’t as great when they come to practice in a bad mood because they couldn’t get a gate unlocked, and great players aren’t as great when they’re still angry about a dropped pass the day before. An engaged community with people like Ray helps keep the gears from grinding against each other too hard.
Nonetheless, Ray is not the kind of man who celebrates himself. In fact, he has spent his time trying to celebrate those around him. He’s the first person to post on social media about a Poly athlete’s accomplishments, and he even helped put together and fund a documentary about Poly coaching legend Don Norford.
On December 21, at 3:30 p.m., Porter officially retired from his job. He was honored earlier in the week by the LBUSD Board of Education, and with a party at Poly on his last day, as well as with countless social media posts. Not surprisingly, he was a little overwhelmed by the amount of attention and adulation he received.
“It hasn’t sunk in yet, but this day at work has been surreal,” he said.
I was glad to see him get the handshakes and back pats that a long, valuable career deserve. Ray isn’t the kind of person to celebrate himself–but we should all take a moment and appreciate the Ray Porters of the world, or at least the ones in our city.