RICHMOND, Va. -- Former Richmond homicide detective Ray Williams is tough with a lot of heart.
He had to be. He grew up hard in Richmond's Oregon Hill neighborhood, fighting in the streets and eventually becoming a Golden Gloves champion.
"My dad died at 51 years old from alcohol poisoning," he told me. "They found him in a vacant house on Laurel Street with 17 cents in his pocket."
Ray was five at the time.
"I said, I'm gonna do the best I can," Ray recalled. "I don't want to end up like him."
He worked hard in school, and was one of few street urchins who could read well.
"We used to get the Bazooka bubblegum with the cartoon . . . I had to read it to the guys on the corner."
He became a Richmond police officer and quickly moved up to the detective division, working on some of the city's toughest murders, and murderers.
"Ray was a hard worker," recalled Retired RPD Lt. Waverly Tanner, one of Ray's supervisors. "He was one of the most diligent, hard-working detectives we had at the time."
He and Ray remain friends, and fierce fellow competitors on the racquetball court.
Yes, Ray Williams still plays hard, even though he has no pulse and "I'm living on batteries."
When his 2003 quadruple bypass didn't improve his failing heart, he was put on the transplant waiting list and his cardiology team at St. Mary's, led by Dr. Gary Zeevi and renowned surgeon Dr. Marc Katz, installed a left ventricular assistance device that pumps his blood to his aorta.
This is a seriously big deal, but Ray fought his way back onto the racquetball courts, where he plays almost daily, coaches, referees and teaches Wounded Warriors this sport that he loves.
He figures he'd "probably die in a year" if he sat back and took it easy.
"If I killed myself on racquetball court," he told me, "I'd be doing something that I love to do."
Plus, his fellow players help lift him up and encourage him to live his usual hearty life.
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