Samuel P. Massie, the U.S. Naval Academy's first black professor, who taught students as much about life as he did about chemistry, is retiring.
Dr. Massie, 74, taught chemistry at the academy for 28 years and was one of its most popular instructors. He will be honored by the academy at a dinner tonight at the Bay Ridge Inn in Annapolis.
"There probably is no right time to retire, but I wanted to go while I am still active to do things," Dr. Massie said. "I didn't want them dragging me out of here."
Dr. Massie grew up in North Little Rock, Ark., where he graduated from high school at the age of 13. He received a bachelor's degree from the A.M.N. College of Arkansas, a master's degree from Fisk University and a doctorate from Iowa State University, where among other things, he contributed to atomic bomb research.
By the time he came to the Naval Academy in 1966, Dr. Massey already had racked up an impressive string of credentials and was a nationally recognized pioneer among black scientists and eductors. He had held chemistry department chairmanships at Fisk, Langston University in Oklahoma and Howard University in Washington, D.C. Immediately before coming to the academy, he had been president of North Carolina College at Durham.
When Dr. Massie arrived in Annapolis 28 years ago, he was unable to buy a home, at least not in the city's white residential neighborhoods,where blacks were unwelcome.
So he moved his family to Laurel and commuted the 25 miles to work.
Over the years, Dr. Massie interspersed his chemistry lectures with life stories. He told corny jokes, tried to teach students to work hard and advised them to map a course for their lives. Many of his students went on to win prestigious scholarships and hold top positions in the Navy.
He co-founded the academy's black studies program and was a role model, especially for black midshipmen.
His impact was felt beyond the academic circles. Dr. Massie is proud of helping change a policy at the Naval Academy that had denied journeymen positions to black workers.
In addition to his work at the Naval Academy, Dr. Massie has held several state positions.
He is a member of the Governor's Science Advisory Council and served on the Maryland State Board of Community Colleges between 1968 and 1989.
A year ago, the Annapolis Chapter of the National Naval Officers Association established an endowment in his name to provide scholarships to women, minorities and economically disadvantaged Anne Arundel County students studying math, science, engineering or health care in Maryland schools.
Dr. Massie said he plans to finish writing a book on black scientists and hopes to travel.
He said he will continue to serve on an advisory committee to the Smithsonian Institution's exhibit on science in America and on an American Chemical Society committee to seek candidates for science teacher grants.