Sammy Ray and Fort Crockett
When new doors open, old doors close. It is simply the way of progress.
For TAMUG in this 2010-2011 academic year, doors that opened at the beginning of the fall semester welcomed our distinguished science faculty into their new offices and laboratories in the state-of-the-art Ocean and Coastal Studies Building.
Even as we continue to celebrate this new building as the portal to the university’s scientific discovery and exploration, we need to take what may be a final look back to where our journey began. To know about the Fort Crockett facility is to know about the promise and purpose of TAMUG and the Texas Maritime Academy.
There is no better way to salute the old building – that was our first campus, first classroom facility, first dormitory, first dining hall facility and essential scientific research/laboratory facility – than to view it through the eyes of the man who loves her the most.
To the surprise of practically everyone in the Texas A&M University at Galveston community during the 2010 fall semester our living legend and institutional treasure, Dr. Sammy Ray, moved his office and laboratory from Fort Crockett to the Mitchell Campus on Pelican Island.
If you don’t see that as a red-hot news flash – obviously, you don’t know Dr. Ray.
However, if you do know Dr. Ray, most likely you call him “Sammy.” And if you’ve ever spent more than five minutes talking with him, you already possess enough information to understand what a gigantic step the move was for him.
As Sammy’s friends and admirers can attest, it doesn’t take a long conversation for one to acquire some essential insights into the philosophy and unswervingly optimistic outlook of this remarkable man.
Those who know him believed he would never leave the birthplace of TAMUG. After all,
Sammy, as he prefers to be called, places high priority on honoring commitments and, he was committed to staying at Fort Crocket.
This former World War I and World War II army barracks at Fort Crockett was home base for Sammy’s internationally acclaimed oyster and oyster disease research for more than 50 years. Although he had begun working in the building before 1960, he designates June 1 of that year as the day he first established Fort Crockett as his permanent base of operations.
Sammy’s abiding affection for Fort Crockett is no secret. It shines through even when he is regaling us with tales of never-ending battles with a sea of roaches intent on claiming everything edible in the building -- including the paste in the bindings of Sammy’s books and journals.
Almost all acquaintances have heard him say, “I love that old building. It’s adaptable to suit whatever purpose it serves. It reminds me of myself.”
Another of Sammy’s sentiments is: “I always believed I’d leave Fort Crockett only when they carried out me out – feet first.”
The good news is that Sammy’s made a new commitment to continue in the mode of “retirement” that keeps him actively pursuing his work and research activities on the main campus and fulfilling his ongoing duties to his beloved Sea Camp – as long as he is happy.
He says he wakes up every day looking forward to his work that makes him happy.
The move to the main campus does not mean Sammy will surrender his self-appointed position as yell-leader-in-chief for the contributions of Fort Crockett.
In the many roles he has played in the formation and growth of this unique institution, Sammy witnessed the inception of every program everyone everywhere currently associates with Texas A&M University at Galveston – and with the acclaimed excellence of our university.
Sammy was working out of Fort Crockett in 1962 when the old building was designated to be the initial home of the newly authorized Texas Maritime Academy. And in September of 1962, he was around to greet the very first students -- four cadets -- and the academy’s first Superintendent Captain Bennett Dodson (who also was the first member of the faculty).
Sammy says, “Never in my fondest dreams did I believe TAMUG would have an excellent scientific research facility like the new Ocean and Costal Studies Building, but here it is for all to see. Yet, he points out that before this new building could emerge, the university’s reputation of excellence was built by distinguished science and scientists anchored at Fort Crockett.
In recent years, TAMUG consistently has ranked among the top ten public universities in Texas in terms of research grant dollars generated per full-time faculty researcher. Several times in this current span, the quality and value of the university’s research has carried it as high as the number three spot in the annual rankings -- behind only TAMU and the University of Texas. During all of those years, Fort Crockett was the university’s primary scientific research facility.
To date, Sammy has supervised the moving of a mountain of materials out of Fort Crockett, but the files, the papers, the equipment, the samples and the memorabilia (possibly another mountain’s worth) still “stored” in the old office give Sammy the security of knowing he’s preserving a foothold there.
When the old building is completely emptied, visitors still will be able to detect a tangible presence of Sammy Ray there. In much the same way, visiting with Sammy in his new main campus office can transport anyone in earshot to visions of the Fort Crockett building in its heyday.