Raymond E. Mabus was sworn in as Secretary of the Navy on May 19, 2009. A former governor of Mississippi and one-time ambassador to Saudi Arabia, Mabus signed onto the Obama campaign in 2007.
Born October 11, 1948, in Starkville, Mississippi, Ray Mabus grew up in Ackerman, the only child of Raymond Mabus, who owned a hardware store and then started a successful timber business, and Lucille Curtis, who coached basketball before marrying. Raymond was 49 and Lucille was 39 when Ray was born. Mabus’ father was an enthusiastic traveler and, by the time Ray was 19, he had lived in Mexico, traveled on the Trans-Siberian Railroad and visited Tehran. After attending public schools, he graduated from the University of Mississippi with a bachelor’s degree in English in 1969. He was a Woodrow Wilson fellow at Johns Hopkins University, earning a master’s degree in political science in 1970, before joining the US Navy. Mabus served for two years (1971-1972), including a stint aboard the cruiser USS Little Rock.
After leaving the service, he was accepted into Harvard Law School, and received his law degree, magna cum laude, in 1976. After graduation, he worked as a law clerk for the US Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, and joined the Washington law firm of Fried, Frank, Harris, Shriver and Kampelman.
A Democrat, Mabus began his political career in Washington, DC, working as legal counsel to the House Agriculture Committee. Following the election of Democratic Governor William Winter in 1980, he returned to Mississippi to work in the governor’s office as part of the youthful “Boys of Spring” group of staffers. Mabus served as Winter’s legal counsel and chief legislative liaison, and helped craft education bills for the governor, including the Education Reform Act of 1982. He also helped run his father’s tree farm.
Mabus was first elected to public office in 1983, winning the race for state auditor. His greatest claim to fame as state auditor was assisting the FBI in a sting operation (Operation Pretense) that indicted 57 county supervisors in 25 counties (all but two went to prison).
Nineteen eighty-seven was a celebratory year for Mabus. He married his first wife, Julie Hines, the daughter of a prominent Jackson banker and a Columbia M.B.A., and he successfully ran for governor, defeating Tupelo businessman Jack Reed and becoming the youngest governor in the nation at the time (39). Running on the slogan “Mississippi Will Never Be Last Again,” Mabus was billed as “the face of the New South,” much like his counterpart in Arkansas at the time, Bill Clinton. Mabus won the black vote 9 to 1 and lost the white vote 2-1.
During his time as governor, he pushed for an education reform plan, B.E.S.T. (Better Education for Success Tomorrow), gave teachers the largest pay raise in the nation, and was named one of Fortune magazine’s top 10 education governors. But these successes weren’t enough for Mabus to win a second term as governor, as he lost 51% to 47% to Republican Kirk Fordice in 1991—the first Republican to win a gubernatorial contest in Mississippi since Reconstruction more than 110 years earlier. An anti-incumbency mood among the electorate and skillful manipulation of racially charged issues were credited for Fordice’s upset victory, along with Mabus’ aloof and distant personal style.
Mabus’ southern connections helped him become US ambassador to Saudi Arabia in 1994 during Clinton’s first term in the White House. During his two-year posting terrorists exploded a car bomb in Riyadh, causing five US and two Indian fatalities.
After stepping down from his ambassadorship in May 1996, Mabus returned to Mississippi to run his family lumber business. He also served on the board of Fusion Telecommunications, which at one time enjoyed a “sweetheart deal” with Teleco, the telephone monopoly of Haiti that was reportedly “looted” by the Jean-Bertrand Aristide administration.
In 1998, Mabus separated from his wife, Julie. The couple divorced in 2000. They have two daughters.
Mississippians apparently missed Mabus, for in 1999, he was voted the best governor of the millennium in a poll taken by the Jackson Clarion-Ledger.
From 2006 to April 2007, he was chairman and CEO of Foamex International, helping the company out of bankruptcy. In August 2007, he joined the board of EnerSys, the world’s largest manufacturer, marketer and distributor of industrial batteries.
Mabus joined Barack Obama’s presidential campaign in May 2007 as an unpaid advisor on the Middle East and also toured the country speaking on behalf of the Democratic candidate. In October of the same year, he remarried—to nurse Lynne Horecky.
Following Hurricane Katrina, Mabus was a founder of the Help and Hope Foundation, which works to meet the needs of children affected by the storm. Mabus also has taught at the University of Mississippi as the Distinguished Lecturer on the Middle East. He is also an avid photographer