When Ray Laughter retires from the Lone Star College System in February, he will have spent 26 more years in the public sector than he originally expected.
After he was hired to run the college system’s Small Business Development Center in 1987, Laughter promised then-Chancellor Joe Airola to stay in the position only a couple of years. However, Laughter fell in love with the community college, debunked his original expectations and eventually rose to vice chancellor of external affairs.
“When he hired me, I said ‘I promise I’ll stay for two years so the center gets going, but I know I’m going to want to get back into the private sector,’ Laughter said. “I didn’t really see myself as a public sector guy. Twenty-eight years later I’m still there.”
As the head of the External Affairs Department—the college system’s point of contact for government and city officials—Laughter has built lasting relationships between the college and its legislators.
“He’s been a real friend to chambers of commerce in northwest Houston,” said Bruce Hillegeist, president of the Greater Tomball Area Chamber of Commerce. “He brought us all together as one unifying voice.”
Coming from the private sector originally, Laughter said he has always recognized the need for a positive relationship with the business community.
“If we don’t have a strong relationship with the business community, we may be way off-target with the skills we’re teaching or the occupations we’re preparing [students] for,” Laughter said.
Two accomplishments stand out from his tenure at LSCS, Laughter said. First, he led the rebranding effort after the system changed its name from North Harris Montgomery Community College to Lone Star College in 2008. Laughter also enjoyed working on the annexation of Klein, Cy-Fair and Magnolia ISDs because it exposed more students to the college system.
“Ray Laughter plays such an important role at Lone Star College,” LSCS Chancellor Steve Head said. “His efforts really helped grow the community’s trust in our college and was instrumental in getting our 2014 bond approved.”
Through retirement, Laughter looks forward to spending more time with his family. However, he also expects to remain involved with the community. Laughter plans to serve as chairman of the Houston Northwest Chamber of Commerce board of directors in 2017.
“I’m passionate and dedicated to what I do,” he said. “It’s a 24/7 job. I might have a tough time turning it off, but I won’t know until I try. Hopefully if I have to get back into something, people will welcome me back, but I’m looking forward to the next phase.”