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Blackpast.org in the Classroom

Dr. Samuel Kelly, Class of 1971: Soldier, Educator, Advocate.

For virtually all of the eight decades of his life, Dr. Samuel E. Kelly has been an advocate of education for its own sake and as a central strategy for improving the lives of African Americans. His awareness of the importance of education came early when his parents demanded careful attention to his studies and lauded the good grades that followed. One older brother, James, was particularly inspiring. James completed college, became the first in the family to receive a Ph.D., and went on to a successful career as an educator and Dean of the College of Education at the University of Pittsburgh.

Dr. Sam's own career in education was enhanced by his military service. While rising through the ranks in the U.S. Army Sam Kelly received a B.A. in history from West Virginia State in 1959 and a B.S. in Education from the same institution two years later. He also received an M.A. in history from Marshall University in Huntington, West Virginia in 1960, driving 50 miles each way at night to attend classes while teaching ROTC during the day at West Virginia State.

Upon retiring from the U.S. Army in 1966, Sam Kelly knew he wanted to spend the remainder of his life as an educator. Soon afterwards Sam Kelly became the first African American hired in the Washington State Community College System when he began teaching at Everett Junior College.

In 1970 Sam Kelly came to the University of Washington as the founding Vice President for Minority Affairs. Although the post did not require another degree, Sam Kelly, despite the demands of a full-time administrative post, decided to enroll in the Ph.D. program at the University of Washington.

"I credit my UW Ph.D. with giving me the critical thinking skills to envision, design, and implement programs to benefit economically disadvantaged students from all cultures." "Dr. Sam," as he would be known from that point, put his doctorate to work in service to his community. He urged others to follow his example and worked assiduously to increase the numbers of underrepresented undergraduate and graduate students at the University of Washington, and to provide them with the opportunities to advance their education and, in turn, serve their communities.

"Every day I was on the campus I challenged African Americans around me to continue their education despite the pressures of work and family by reminding them that I faced those same pressures when I earned two undergraduate degrees, my Master's, and my Ph.D. I also reminded them that a U.W. degree would open doors and create opportunities that they and their parents could not imagine. I am proud to say that many of them took my advice."

"Come to the University of Washington. It will change your life."


Dr. Samuel E. Kelly was born in Greenwich Connecticut in 1926. He served in the U.S. Army from 1944 to 1966 rising from the rank of Private to Colonel. In 1970, he became the first African American senior administrator at the University of Washington when UW President Charles Odegaard appointed him Vice President for Minority Affairs, a post he held for nearly a decade. During his tenure as an administrator he completed his Ph.D. in Higher Education Administration at the UW and was appointed to the faculty of the College of Education. He also opened doors for hundreds of highly visible students of color as well as economically disadvantaged white students through his professional efforts. Dr. Sam set the standard for, and established a commitment to diversity before it was popular among American colleges and universities.

Dr. Samuel Eugene Kelly passed away on Monday, July 6, 2009, at his home in Redmond, Washington. 

 

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