Montague mother and son duo say education is the key to breaking barriers

David Montague and Raye Montague

David Montague, director of eLearning and professor of criminal justice at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, grew up believing in education. 

“My mom certainly made me believe I could do anything I wanted as long as I had the skill sets and the determination,” he said. “I saw her having to fight and fight, and I had to deal with a lot of that myself.”

David’s mother, Raye Jean Jordan Montague, 82, of Little Rock, provided a great role model for her son. She is an internationally registered professional engineer with the U.S. Navy credited with creating the first computer-generated rough draft of a U.S. naval ship. The process had previously taken two years. She accomplished the task in fewer than 19 hours, when her department had been given one month to finish the job.

Montague held a civilian equivalent rank of captain and was the U.S. Navy’s first female program manager of ships. Among many other honors, Montague was awarded the U.S. Navy’s Meritorious Civilian Service Award in 1972, the navy’s third-highest honorary award.

“The secretary of the Navy nominated me to be the federal woman of the year, because he said I had revolutionized the design process for all naval ships and submarines,” she said.

Raye Montague was recognized as a real-life “Hidden Figure” on the Feb. 20 live episode of Good Morning America, where she had a surprise visit from Janelle Monae, who portrayed Mary Jackson in the “Hidden Figures” movie. Jackson played a crucial role in helping NASA send astronaut John Glenn to orbit the Earth in 1962.

Since Raye Montague was unable to fly to the Good Morning America show, ABC sent a limo and two chauffeurs who drove Raye, David, and David’s 13-year-old daughter Riley to New York.

“There were stacks of people just waiting to get into the studio,” Raye Montague said. “People kept wanting to take selfies with me.”

For David Montague, having his daughter see her grandmother honored on live television reinforced the lessons he is teaching her about the value of education and hard work.

“I have always raised her to know that she can do anything and be anything. Right now, she is talking about getting a Ph.D. and being a quantum chemist,” he said.

Raising him right

After separating from David’s father when her son was just 9 weeks old, Raye Montague was determined to encourage her son the same way her mother did for her.

“My mother had told me I could do anything I wanted to do even though I had all these obstacles,” she said. “I was a woman and black and had a Southern-segregated school education, but I could do anything and be anything I wanted, provided I was educated.”

The day David turned 3, Raye Montague enrolled him in a Montessori school, where he took French, geography, biology, and mathematics. When David graduated at 6, the budding academic thought he was headed to college instead of first grade, because his mother told him he was going to college when he graduated.

“I forgot to tell him there were 12 more years,” she said with a laugh.

Her son eventually attended the prestigious Morehouse College, even though the fact that he only applied to one college worried his mother to death.

“I told David you can’t just apply to one school, and Morehouse was very difficult to get into,” she said. “That’s the school Martin Luther King Jr. attended. I was busy chasing around trying to find friends in other schools to see if I could get him in if he didn’t make it, but he got into Morehouse.”

Raye Montague promised her son she would support his education as long as she never had to hire a lawyer to get him out of jail. After receiving a Master of Arts in Crime and Commerce at The George Washington University, David Montague eventually went into law enforcement.

He completed federal investigations for 14 years in law enforcement and intelligence capacities working for the United States Drug Enforcement Administration as a federal drug diversion investigator and as a consultant on national security matters with U.S. Investigations Services, Inc. From 1995 to 1997, he served as the senior investigator on the United States JFK Assassination Records Review Board.

As a professor at UA Little Rock, David Montague is active in the community, volunteering as a deputy sheriff in Arkansas, participating in a prison rehabilitation program, serving on several discipline-related boards, and a graduate of both the FBI Citizens’ Academy and the LeadAR Program.

David Montague credits his spirit of giving back to his mother, who also volunteered with the mentorship program for inmates through UA Little Rock’s community re-entry program.

“I feel it is important to give back and give people hope to get an education,” he said. “It made me want to volunteer to be a deputy sheriff in Pulaski County. I have been paid enough in the quality of life I have and the experiences that I have been exposed to. I learned a lot of that from my mom. She still reached out to help other people and saw the importance of helping other people.”

Raye Montague eventually spent 33 years working for the Navy. When she retired in 1990, she was presented with a flag that had flown over the nation’s capitol in her honor. She was most grateful that her mother, who encouraged her to be all she could be, was in attendance.

“Can you imagine a little girl from Little Rock receiving such an honor from a grateful nation? My mother, who was the wind beneath my wings, was there to see it.”

Raye Montague also gave a presentation at the Little Rock FBI field office on Feb. 23. Members of the U.S. Navy will visit Little Rock next week to interview Raye, who will be featured in an upcoming edition of All Hands, the official magazine of the U.S. Navy.

Raye Montague is an internationally recognized engineer in the U.S. and Canada, even though she does not hold an engineering degree. She earned a bachelor’s degree in business from Arkansas Agricultural, Mechanical and Normal School, now the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff, because the engineering school at the University of Arkansas did not accept minorities at the time.

In the end, Raye Montague credits education with being the secret to her successful career.

“You can do anything you want to do provided you are educated.,” she said. “You can be anything you want to be. There is no such thing as women’s work or men’s work. You might have to work harder. In my case, I had to run circles around people, but, eventually, I went from the bottom to the top, essentially, with the Navy.”

Pictured in the upper right photo are David Montague (left) and his mother, Raye Montague (right), at her home in Little Rock. Photo by Lonnie Timmons III/UA Little Rock Communications.

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