For years, people would tell the U.S. Navy’s Hidden Figure Dr. Raye Montague that she should write a book about her incredible life.
The late Dr. Montague, an internationally registered professional engineer with the U.S. Navy, is credited with creating the first computer-generated rough draft of a U.S. naval ship. Montague was recognized as the U.S. Navy’s real-life “Hidden Figure” during naval events in Washington, D.C. and Virginia and on the Feb. 20, 2017, live episode of “Good Morning America.”
In the last years of her life, Raye Montague decided to write the long-awaited book with her son, Dr. David Montague, executive director of online learning and faculty mentoring as well as a professor of criminal justice at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, and co-author, Paige Bowers.
Bowers brought to the table the experience of a published author. She wrote “The General’s Niece: The Little-Known de Gaulle Who Fought to Free Occupied France” and is a nationally published news and features writer.
Just as the trio had finished a book proposal and was about to secure a publisher, Raye Montague passed away in October 2018 at the age of 83. One of the last promises David Montague made his mother was to finish her book.
“Even though my mother couldn’t stay for the whole process, she was able to contribute a lot to the book,” Montague said. “When she was in hospice, I promised her that I would finish the book. I’m really excited about it. It gives us a chance to give her story, which is much broader than her amazing career. It also talks about encouragement for so many types of people and overcoming obstacles against impossible odds.”
“Overnight Code” is equal parts coming-of-age tale, civil rights history, and reflection on the power of education. The 240-page book is described as a tale about persistence and perseverance when the odds against you seem insurmountable.
“We believe there is so much in this book for so many people,” Bowers said. “Yes, it is a story about a woman with a formidable life who became a very gifted engineer just through her sheer determination and through often teaching herself computer science and coding when they were still in infancy. But there is also a huge takeaway about resilience, about not giving up if you have a setback or if something is blocking your way to success.”
Raye Montague earned a bachelor’s degree in business from the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff at a time when the engineering school at the University of Arkansas did not accept minorities. She began her career with the U.S. Navy in 1956. She held a civilian equivalent rank of captain and was the Navy’s first female program manager of ships. Among many other honors, she was awarded the U.S. Navy’s Meritorious Civilian Service Award in 1972, the Navy’s third-highest honorary award. She was also nominated for the Federal Woman of the Year Award the same year.
After her 33-year naval career, Raye Montague retired in 1990 and was presented with a flag that had flown over the nation’s capital in her honor. She was passionate about highlighting the value of education and encouraging girls to get involved in STEM education, receiving many awards and commendations over the years for volunteering with youth.
After returning to Arkansas in 2006, she spent many years as a mentor, volunteer, motivational speaker, and dedicated mother and grandmother in Little Rock. Montague mentored prison inmates through UA Little Rock’s community re-entry program and was honored with the 10th Annual Fribourgh Award in 2019.
Beyond all of Raye Montague’s admirable achievements, Bowers described the book as a story about the power of a mother’s love across generations.
“Raye’s mother was the foundation that helped her become the woman she was meant to be, and Raye’s love for David helped him become the Dr. Montague that we know,” Bowers said. “David has taken the baton from his mother. He continues to encourage people to stay in school. He is doing her proud by continuing this outreach. That is a testament to her and a testament to him.”
During the process of researching, conducting interviews, and writing the book, David Montague discovered hidden depths about his mother.
“I learned my mom was more of a firecracker than I ever thought her to be. People came at her from every direction, but she didn’t let that stop her,” David Montague said. “After she passed, there were people who talked about how much she had done to open doors for them. Until recently, they had no clue that she had done all these things in the Navy. That is something I have tried to do as a faculty member and administrator and that is something that I learned from her. Even when she was struggling in hospice, she was trying to encourage people in those facilities to go to school and so many people have come to school at UA Little Rock and beyond because of her.”