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Dr. Sammy Ray, World-Renowned Texas A&M-Galveston Professor, Dies At Age 94

Dr. Sammy Ray, a world-renowned marine biologist and one of the founders of Texas A&M University at Galveston, died here earlier today at age 94.
By Cathy Cashio-Bertrand, Texas A&M Galveston October 14, 2013

Dr. Sammy Ray
Dr. Sammy Ray

(Texas A&M Galveston)

Dr. Sammy Ray, a world-renowned marine biologist and one of the founders of Texas A&M University at Galveston, died here earlier today at age 94.

He joined the faculty in 1957 and became an internationally acclaimed scientist for his research in the field of oysters — research that authorities in the field agree had a profound and positive effect on the vital Gulf Coast industry — economically and otherwise. He formally retired in 1990, but continued to conduct research — either in his laboratory on campus or aboard a vessel that bears his name.

News of his death prompted statements by Texas A&M University President R. Bowen Loftin and Admiral Robert Smith III, chief executive officer of Texas A&M University at Galveston.

Loftin, who earlier in his career headed the Galveston campus, issued the following statement: “Sammy was a dear friend and colleague. I admired him not only as an extraordinary researcher, teacher and mentor, but also as one committed to exciting young people about science. He created Sea Camp, a program that has literally touched thousands of children and helped them channel their natural curiosity to pursue education and careers in science. He will be missed, but he leaves an incredible legacy for the entire world.”

“Dr. Ray dedicated his life to education, research and service,” Admiral Smith said. “He has mentored many of the world’s leading researchers and his discoveries have saved lives, made our seafood safer and helped the seafood industry thrive. He will always remain one of the finest examples of the Aggie spirit. I will truly miss his daily presence at our university.”

For more than half a century, Dr. Ray conducted widely acclaimed research on oyster disease and seafood safety. He invented a diagnostic method to detect the disease agent in oysters in the 1950s while working at Texas A&M Galveston. Today, Dr. Ray’s highly reliable diagnostic technique is still the most widely used in oyster disease studies.

“Every day I make it into my lab is a good day,” Dr. Ray often said after his official retirement 23 years ago. He also was an active advisor and coordinator of student programs and several community outreach programs.

Dr. Ray was an authoritative source of scientific information and advice for the State of Texas for many decades. He was actively engaged in the interpretation of scientific knowledge for management decisions related to oyster and shrimp fisheries in the Gulf of Mexico. Over the past 10 years, he participated in both the Joint Interim Committee on the Texas Shrimp and Oyster Industry and the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council. He was a past chair of the Scientific and Technical Advisory Committee for the Galveston Bay National Estuary Program and a member of the Board of Trustees of the Galveston Bay Foundation.

Perhaps the most rewarding achievement of this exceptional career is the Sea Camp program. Sea Camp is a hands-on marine adventure for summer students aged 10-16, currently sponsored by Texas A&M University at Galveston. Students attending the 5-day sea camps are given the opportunity to explore the Galveston Island area in research vessels, visit laboratory facilities and use scientific equipment to study marine organisms. Dr. Ray served as the Director of the Sea Camp until 1993 and, in a similar capacity, was the Director of the Community and Youth Program for the university.

Dr. Ray was born in Mulberry, Kansas. He attended Mississippi Delta Junior College. During World War II he served as a U.S. Navy Pharmacists’ Mate 1st Class in the Pacific. After the war, he attended Louisiana State University, where he received his M.A. in biology in 1952. He received a Ph.D. in biology in 1954 from Rice University. His postgraduate career began with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service as a fishery research biologist, and he joined the Texas A&M staff in 1957 at the Research Foundation Laboratory on Grande Isle, Louisiana. He became an associate professor in 1963 in Oceanography and Wildlife and Fisheries Science and was named director of the marine laboratory at Galveston. He reached full professor in 1972 and was named head of the Department of Marine Sciences. Since then, he held positions as dean of Texas A&M’s Moody College of Marine Technology and interim president of Texas A&M University at Galveston.

Several academic honors have been awarded to Dr. Ray, including the Faculty Distinguished Achievement Award in Research at Texas A&M University at Galveston, the William Paul Ricker Award for Distinguished Faculty-Staff Achievement, a Distinguished Alumnus Award from the Mississippi Delta College, a Piper Professor Award and recently the Distinguished Alumni Award from Rice University. For his more than 50 years of research, he was awarded a lifetime honorary membership in the National Shellfisheries Association.

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