One of Utah's finest amateur golfers and an athletic team booster for decades is learning to walk again after his left leg was amputated last summer.
Ray Tucker, 66, a Provo resident and owner of a Salt Lake real estate business, had his leg removed just below the knee in July. Since then, he has been wearing an artificial leg and manages to walk short distances.He expects to get a lighter and more permanent artificial leg early next year that, he hopes, "will get me back onto the golf course again."
Tucker is no stranger to adversity. He was born with a congenital defect in his left hip that required him to wear a shoe 2 inches higher than his left one. When he was 10, he underwent a hip fusion.
Nevertheless, Tucker has been active in athletics all his life. A native of Orem, he participated in most competitive sports as a boy, was a star on his high school's basketball team and was a third baseman, catcher and pitcher on three state championship softball teams in the 1940s.
He took up golf in 1951 and was one of the top amateur golfers in the state during the 1950s and 1960s.
Tucker's reputation in sports, though, was earned as a team manager, coach and booster.Several rooms of his home are decorated with golf trophies.
He brought Little League baseball to Utah in 1951 and, with the late Bill Coltrin, Salt Lake City, managed the first two Little League All Star teams.
Tucker was as successful in business as he was in sports and brought the first Pizza Huts to Utah and built the first water slide in the state. He became a land developer, built several subdivisions and managed a KOA campground that he built on 23 acres on North Temple in west Salt Lake City.
The sports enthusiast and businessman continued to collect golf trophies in his spare time and won the men's title in the LDS Church All-Church Golf Tournament at Willow Creek in 1961, beating some of the best golfers in the world.
Through the later part of the 1960s and through the 1970s and 1980s, Tucker continued to play golf regularly, and he and his wife, LaRue, even built a home near the No. 8 fairway at Riverside County Club in Provo.
But Tucker gave up competing in big tournaments and concentrated, instead, on his Salt Lake business, Ray S. Tucker Realty.
His left hip continued to plague him, and he underwent two operations in 1968 and 1971 to give him a new hip. Because his right knee also gave him trouble, he had a total knee replacement in 1981.
He took his operations humorously, calling himself, in the company of friends, the bionic man.
Nine years ago, Tucker contracted diabetes, which led to his amputation this summer.
Tucker says he doesn't expect to compete in any golf tournaments, "at least not for a while." But he does want to continue playing golf and being active.
"I think all the physical problems I've had all my life have made me a better, stronger person. Solving problems always makes you smarter and better. I've got lots of plans, lots of things I still want to accomplish."
One of the stars of Tucker's first Little League championship team, Sherman Fuller, Bountiful, who is now vice president of First Interstate Bank, has stayed in touch with Tucker.
"I've been friends with Ray since I was 12," Fuller said. "Ray has friends all over. Like me, they call him regularly and visit him all the time."
Fuller, a short stop on that first Little League team, graduated from East High School 1957. Tucker kept track of Fuller, tried to get him to go to Brigham Young University but Fuller went to the University of Utah instead and was a guard on the university's basketball team.
"Tucker is a great BYU booster," Fuller said. "He goes to all the home football and basketball games. He's always looking for talent to refer to BYU coaches."
Tucker talked Fuller's son, Troy, into going to BYU, where Troy played defensive back from 1986 to 1989.
Fuller says Tucker is "one of most unselfish men I know. All his life he has given his time to help youths. He's touched the lives of hundreds of young people through sports.
"He's a real hero. He's worked behind the scenes to support athletics and to make people's lives better," Fuller said.