A Naval Academy electrical engineering professor emeritus, who continued to mentor midshipmen after he retired, died and his wife suffered fatal injuries in a fire that broke out in their Annapolis home late Thursday.
Reuben E. Alley Jr., 88, was pronounced dead at the scene of the fire in the 200 block of Halsey Road, city firefighters said. His wife, Helene, also in her 80s, was found in the front yard with burns over 75 percent of her body and died about 11 a.m. yesterday at the Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center.
The cause of the fire was undetermined as of yesterday. The loss of two longtime residents of the Admiral Heights neighborhood left friends, colleagues and neighbors stunned.
Alley, a Virginia native, was known among Academy faculty as dedicated to the service academy -- so much so that as a retired professor, he visited the school in his free time, with no pay, to do something he loved: teaching the finer points of electronic circuitry.
"The world will be a smaller place without him. He was always a stickler for details and truly a gentleman," said a colleague, Antal Sarkady, a professor of electrical engineering. "People like this are hard to find."
Alley earned his undergraduate degree at the University of Richmond and his doctorate at Princeton University. He was known as a quiet man who valued precision and never lost the mark of a Southern gentleman.
After teaching stints at Vassar and the University of South Carolina, the professor joined the academy faculty in 1965. The Alleys settled in Admiral Heights, an upscale Annapolis enclave of Navy families near the football stadium.
Alley taught a courses in electrical engineering, including electromagnetic theory and various levels of circuits and electronics. Electrical engineering, considered one of the most rigorous required courses at the academy, is indispensable for naval officers.
"The modern Navy uses electric ship drive, which requires electric power distribution and power generation for propulsion and weapon systems," Sarkady said. "He played a very important part in preparing midshipmen for service in the fleet."
Alley also served a term as president of the American Association of Physics Teachers, a national organization.
"What sticks in my mind is his dry wit," said Richard L. Martin, a fellow retiree from the academy's electrical engineering department. "He was an unofficial mentor to me, and I could depend on him for sage words."
Alley, he said, was able to defuse and resolve disagreements and disputes. "He was a good mediator between our department and the administration," Martin said.
Alley retired from full-time teaching in 1993.
"He maintained close ties with the academy even after he retired and continued to contribute to the Naval Academy and its mission," the academy said in a short statement released yesterday. "The Naval Academy family is deeply saddened. ... Our heartfelt condolences go out to the Alley family."
The Alleys were the only people inside the home when the fire broke out, fire officials said.
First reported by neighbors at 11 p.m., the blaze was so fierce that it took until 12:24 a.m. to bring it under control, Lt. John Bowes, a spokesman for the Annapolis Fire Department said. Damages were estimated at $500,000.
"Firefighters made an aggressive interior attack," Bowes said. "But it's unusual that it progressed so fast."
He estimated that 50 firefighters from the city, Anne Arundel County and the academy's fire department fought the blaze.