On July 6, Dr. Sam Kelly passed away from congestive heart failure. Kelly was perhaps most known for being the founder and first vice president of the Office of Minority Affairs of the University of Washington in 1970. He was also known for being a strong advocate of education, which he saw as the key to improving the lives of people of color.
This week, we have lost not only an amazing educator, but an amazing person who has been an inspiration for many. We’d like to take a moment to respectfully recount the events in his life and his accomplishments.
Born in Greenwich, Conn. in 1926, Kelly earned his Bachelor of Arts in History and Bachelor of Science in Education at West Virginia State in 1959. Meanwhile, he was climbing the ranks in the U.S. Army from private to colonel. He earned his Master of Arts in History from Marshall University in Huntington, W.V., in 1963.
After retiring from the U.S. Army in 1966, Kelly broke barriers by becoming the first Black person hired in the Washington State Community College system when he began teaching at Everett Junior College.
In 1970, appointed by UW President Charles Odegaard, Kelly came to the University of Washington as the founder for Minority Affairs. He was the first Black senior administrator at the UW. It was a post he held for nearly a decade. Although the post did not require another degree, he enrolled in the Doctor of Philosophy program at the university.
At the UW, he urged others to follow his example and worked to increase the numbers of underrepresented undergraduate and graduate students at the university. He provided them with opportunities to advance their education.
“He opened doors for hundreds of students of color as well as those who were economically disadvantaged,” wrote Sheila Edwards Lange, UW’s current vice president for Minority Affairs and vice provost for diversity.
Kelly is a great example of a person who made no excuses for himself. It can be easy for some of us to say that there’s no time for college or maybe we cannot afford college — that somehow the system is working against us.
But Kelly didn’t buy into this defeatist attitude. In teaching, he often used himself as an example of someone who overcame the obstacles, showing his students that it was possible. Many took his advice. Perhaps this was his best gift to our society and community.
A celebration of Kelly’s life will be held on Monday, July 27 at 1:30 p.m. in Kane Hall room 130. His family requests that, in lieu of flowers, contributions be made to the Samuel E. Kelly Endowed Scholarship Fund at uwfoundation.org/samkelly. ♦