Monday, October 14, 2013

The influence of a good man: Dr. Sammy Ray

The sad news that Dr. Sammy Ray had died reached me this afternoon. He was 94 years old, a long run for anyone. And yet my hand flew to my mouth and I gasped in surprise. I guess I just expected him to always be there.

We saw him a few summers ago at the grocery store in Galveston. He was using one of those machines to check his blood pressure. He saw Aquaman and recognized him from his time as a student at TAMUG. We didn't want to bother him, but he was glad to see us and we ended up talking to him for 30 minutes, us standing and him sitting on the bench of that blood pressure machine, cane in hand. Aquaman had some questions to ask him about oysters and the drought and water quality. Listening to him speak was like being in a library, flipping through books. I was humbled in his presence, hanging on his every word about the drought and what it meant for Texas, especially the coast. While I had come across Sammy Ray in my work with the Coastal Bend Bays & Estuaries Program, I wasn't a former student like Aquaman, who still has the binder from his Aquamed class in 1990.

Yes. I said 1990.

That's Sammy Ray on the agenda - doing his thing.

Sammy Ray took the time to ask me about teaching and to tell me how important it was. He asked about Aquaman's new job and that led to another conversation about NOAA and the Fisheries Observer Program and then he told us both this:

"Find what you love to do and you'll never work another day in your life." 

It stuck with me. I wrote it down later. I've seen variations of it since, but it meant the most coming from him.

He was legendary on the Texas A&M at Galveston campus. Every time I saw him speak, he received standing ovations from the audience: conferences, meetings, lecture halls. He was brilliant, yes. But what set him apart was that he was approachable. No ivory tower syndrome there. He loved students and always found time to talk to them - to really talk to them, not just lecture. He so enjoyed his work every day that he never really retired, it was in his blood and his very being. It was who he was.

He left a legacy that our oldest son was introduced to this summer. Sammy Ray started SeaCamp, it was his baby and he nurtured it and helped it grow into what it is today. We saved and planned for a year in advance and got on the waiting list as soon as we could (Yep. There's a waiting list.) so that The Redhead could go to the session that focused on Marine Engineering.

Aquaman and I met aboard the Texas Clipper, part of TAMUG's Summer School at Sea program in the summer of 1989. Going back there with The Redhead was quite an experience.

The poster Prep Cadets were given in 1989.

With the anchor from the Texas Clipper in 2013.

Just like my dad before me, I made sure that letters arrived for The Redhead while he was there.

Of course I have Aggie stationery. Don't be ridiculous.

We didn't hear from him all week. We knew this was a good sign. When we picked him up, he was all smiles. He led us around the campus as if we'd never been there.

"There's the library," he pointed out.

"Um. Yeah. I worked there for a year," Aquaman told him.

"And there's the cafeteria," The Redhead added.

"I worked there, too," Aquaman explained.  "My dorm was that one over there and I had classes here and here," he said, pointing.

"Wow!" The Redhead had never been so interested. He continued his tour, telling us the things he had done that week. "So I really, really want to go here now," he told us. "For sure."

And that was the point - it's what Sammy Ray knew. If you got kids hooked by bringing them there and letting them learn and explore, they would stay engaged. If you encouraged their interests, it would pay off. Not just for them or you, but for the greater good.

During my time in Alaska, I learned that when a Tribal elder dies, people often say it's as if a library has burned down. All that knowledge - all the things done and seen - gone forever. It is a catastrophic loss and reason to mourn.

But in this case, because of a body of work and a lifetime dedicated to educating others, I don't think it's true. Sammy Ray may be gone, but his work will never be. That's the influence of a good man.

Well done, Sammy Ray. Well done.

Second generation Sea Aggie.

1 comment:

  1. What a wonderful tribute to a very special man. He will be missed.