Ruth Lucas, the first African American 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 and cardiac arrest, said her great-niece Laurie Ward.
Lucas enlisted in the Women's Army Auxiliary Corps (WAAC) in 1942 and was one 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, 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 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."
Her military decorations included the Defense Meritorious Service Medal.
Ruth Alice Lucas was born in Stamford, Conn., on Nov. 28, 1920. Survivors include two great-nieces whom she helped raise, Laurie Ward and Elaine Ward, both of Washington.