Raymond B. Webster, 88, and Nina Heverin-Alvarado, 13, got to know each other at church. Then she decided she wanted to write about him.
Raymond B. Webster, 88, was born in Hartford, Connecticut but currently lives in Mt. Airy with his wife, Sylvia. Since we both attend Holy Cross Parish in Mt. Airy, I was able to connect with him over the years and learn more about him in this process. I immediately grew to love his happy disposition, and I admire how he is always there to greet you with a smile and a joke.
Mr. Webster has provided me with so much fantastic information that left me in awe of his contributions to the world. Not only did he craft simulations used by NASA and the U.S. Air Force, but he also developed a database of over 75,000 patents called “Contributions of African Americans to Science and Technology Information Systems (CAASTIS).”
In addition, he has written a book, “African American Firsts in Science and Technology,” about African American contributions to science and technology from the year 1753 to 1999.
Despite all these accomplishments, Mr. Webster is truly humble. When asked, "Do you consider yourself an impactful part of space exploration?" he replied, “Little bit, little bit.” Part of his job was interviewing astronauts, which included the first Black astronaut, Robert Lawrence. As an experimental physiologist at Martin Marietta, he focused on the human factor, how the controls would affect the performance of astronauts and pilots.
While working with the Bunker-Ramo Corp. (formerly Martin Marietta), he was well aware that he was one of the only Black men with his opportunities, and this only made him work harder to prove he belonged. The next 25 years after Bunker-Ramo would be used to build up his own company to focus on simulations, database development and other IT systems. Mr. Webster earned contracts from NASA, the U.S. Air Force, Food and Drug Administration and Department of Education, among others.
He is currently building another database with much of the info stored in his basement on patents obtained by African Americans, both domestic and foreign. Many Black people do not get the credit they deserve in being the first, he insists, and he has devoted years to changing that.
Mr. Webster has published over 25 articles about African American patent contributions and was a host on a TV show called “The Science of Philadelphia,” highlighting African American contributions to U.S. history. When I asked Mr. Webster to meet with me, he asked if he should bring anything, and I said, ”Sure!” He brought a giant bag of presentation material he has used over the years, his book and some additional pictures.
It turns out he has given over 70 presentations, seminars and workshops. This made me feel honored and privileged to be talking with him. I was also astonished to find that the database he designed, CAASTIS, is being featured in the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History in Detroit. When talking about his own projects, he made sure to mention how much he valued the contributions of so many others. He also said how at 88 he is still learning and is the “the oldest student” around.
Mr. Webster hopes that the book he is currently writing about African American patents will be his legacy. Even though he has contributed to space exploration and development of the U.S. Air Force and expanded the recognition of thousands of African Americans who have contributed immensely to our world, he actually said the thing he was most proud of is his family. I am so grateful to have the opportunity to learn about him. From his job and training in psychology, Mr. Webster learned to empathize with others by listening attentively and anticipating their needs. Lastly, the biggest takeaway from Mr. Webster is that a truly rich life is achieved not only by hard work and preparation but also by being humble and kind.
Nina Heverin-Alvarado, 13, is a Holy Cross Parish member in Mt. Airy entering 8th grade. She loves journaling, reading, the clarinet and snuggling with her cats, picking up trash in the park and admiring the beauty of nature. This is her first article published in a newspaper.