Dr. Sam Kelly, the UW's first vice president for minority affairs, died July 6 at age 83.
Had a defiant band of black students not staged a radical four-hour sit-in on a spring day in 1968 in the office of University of Washington President Charles Odegaard, Dr. Samuel E. Kelly Sr. might not have been recruited from a local community college to establish the university’s Office of Minority Affairs.
Odegaard’s choice of Dr. Kelly in 1970 as the university’s first vice president for minority affairs is no less monumental today, says Metropolitan King County Councilmember Larry Gossett, one of the initiators of that 1968 student sit-in. Gossett became Dr. Kelly’s hand-picked choice two years later to be the Office of Minority Affairs’ first supervisor of the black student division. Dr. Kelly also hired young activists to head Chicano, Asian and American Indian divisions.
The student sit-in was to demand aggressive recruitment of minority and disadvantaged white students, the hiring of more staff and faculty of color, and the creation of a center on campus for the academic and cultural development of students of color. It was also to demand the creation of an ethnic-studies department.
Gossett remembers Dr. Kelly as “the prime leader in the effort to create a meaningful existence for minority students on the UW campus.”
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“He is a monumental figure in the annals of UW history,” Gossett said.
Dr. Kelly, a UW administrator for more than a decade, died July 6 at his Redmond home of congestive heart failure at age 83.
“Family, education and opportunity were his lifelong passions,” said his wife, Donna Kelly.
Born Jan. 26, 1926, in Greenwich, Conn., the youngest in a family of five boys, Dr. Kelly entered the Army in 1944 and served 22 years, including during World War II and the Korean War. He retired as a lieutenant colonel in 1966.
While in the service, he earned undergraduate degrees in history and education at historically black West Virginia State College in Institute, and a graduate degree in history at Marshall University in Huntington, W.Va.
His first academic post in Washington state was teaching American history at what was then Everett Junior College, then American history and black history at Shoreline Community College.
To his knowledge, according to his soon-to-be published autobiography, he was the first African American to teach in this state’s community-college system. He had been working on his just-completed autobiography with UW American history professor Quintard Taylor Jr. since 2004.
Before his UW tenure, Dr. Kelly was credited with developing the ethnic-studies program at Shoreline, Taylor said.
Dr. Kelly held the UW minority-affairs post for six years, then became a special assistant to the president’s office. During that period, he also earned his doctorate in higher-education administration at the UW, and became a tenured faculty member in the College of Education’s graduate program.
After he left the UW, from the early 1990s to 2006 he and his family lived in Vancouver, Wash., where he held posts in vocational and alternative high-school education programs for Portland-area students. He also was an adjunct faculty member at Clark College in Vancouver for nearly a decade.
Dr. Kelly was an educational advocate who opened doors for hundreds of students of color, as well as economically disadvantaged white students, Gossett noted.
He worked to increase the numbers of undergraduate and graduate students of color at the UW and provide them with opportunities to advance their educations and, in turn, serve their communities, said Taylor.
“He was a man of very unique experience and vision and confidence,” Gossett said.
In addition to his wife, Dr. Kelly is survived by daughters Brenda Kelly of Lakebay, Pierce County, Sharon North of Redmond, and Heather Blackthorn of Fort Riley, Kan.; his sons Bill Kelly and Samuel Kelly Jr., both of Redmond; and three grandchildren.
At his request, no funeral is planned. The UW, however, will host a memorial remembrance at 1:30 p.m. July 27 — the date Dr. Kelly and his wife would have celebrated their 29th wedding anniversary — in Kane Hall on campus.
Remembrances may be made to the UW’s Samuel E. Kelly Endowment Fund, or to Friends of Portland OIC, 717 N. Killingsworth Court, Portland, OR 97217, or to the Clark College Foundation, 1933 Fort Vancouver Way, Vancouver, WA 98663-3598.