Dr. Jim Ragland, of Allen, Texas, died September 24, 2023 at the age of 99. He was born in Ada, Oklahoma in 1924 to James Jordan Ragland and Zelda Keithley Ragland. He was preceded in death by his wife of almost 70 years, Leola Lee Ragland, his parents, and his sister JoAnn Craddick.
He is survived by son James Ragland of Pearland, Texas, daughter Rebecca Cherry of Springfield, Missouri, son John Ragland of Hot Springs, Arkansas, son Steve Ragland of Leonard, Texas, and nephew Joel Engle of Keller, Texas. He is also survived by grandchildren Matthew, Jennifer, Megan, John Clayton, Christina, and Rebekah, and many great-grandchildren and grand-nieces and grand-nephews.
He wanted to be an architect. WW2 had other ideas. He enlisted and became a B-17 navigator, serving in the 388th Bomb Group during the final desperate months of Hitler’s Reich. He returned to Oklahoma A&M and a higher calling, spending nights and weekends as an itinerant evangelist and later, during his seminary years, as a country preacher in west Texas.
Most of the next four decades were lived in Beirut, Lebanon, where he was father, husband, missionary, ad hoc diplomat, hostage rescuer, and headmaster of Beirut Baptist School, a school still thriving today.
As his young family sailed from America, whatever exotic notions he harbored about his faraway destination must have been upended when he arrived at a beautiful cosmopolitan city by the Mediterranean dubbed the “Paris of the Middle East”. Beirut was surrounded by snow-capped mountains and sandy beaches. Its people were a resilient, hospitable mix of cultures and religions, all living side by side. And there was no better food on the planet…
But even after WW2, he was no stranger to war. He was there during the 1956 Suez Canal crisis, and in 1958 when Eisenhower’s marines stormed the beaches of Beirut only to be welcomed by girls in bikinis and friendly Lebanese handing out bottles of Coca-Cola. He stayed behind in 1967 when thousands of other Americans evacuated. He was there during the 1973 Yom Kippur war, and in 1982 when Israel invaded Lebanon and occupied the school grounds.
And he was there through the darkest moments of a 15-year bloody civil war. He survived a harrowing home invasion, endured deprivations and witnessed horrors few Americans will ever know. In 1987, President Reagan threatened to revoke expats’ citizenships, so he and other missionaries relocated to the island of Cyprus where he worked until retirement. He never forgave Reagan.
His views were generally progressive, sometimes conflicting, and often controversial. He was an avid reader of Harry Emerson Fosdick. He supported Barry Goldwater. He quoted The Beatles in sermons while fundamentalists “back home” were burning their records. He was an unyielding critic of the notion of Biblical inerrancy until dementia finally robbed him of his vigor and his voice.
He made his family’s lives a magical adventure they will never forget. He was a testament to endurance and survival and fitness and will be remembered for his fierce devotion to Beirut Baptist School, and for his efforts to save every soul he met.
There are no final plans at this time, but more will be shared by the family in the future. Memorial donations may be made to the Beirut Baptist School (https://bbs.edu.lb).
Photos taken during 2019 reunion of 388th Bomb Group based in Knetishall, England. Above, Jim Ragland is standing on summit of tallest Cahokia mound, east of St. Louis. Below, he is walking towards a base of the St. Louis Arch. The interplay of light and dark foreshadowed the inevitable. May he rest in peace and rise in glory…