1950's In Memoriam: Alumni

Reggie Ray

Thomas A. Wright Sr., R.L.B.D. 1954, died Dec. 9, 2014. He graduated from the Howard University Divinity School with high honors and was president of his class in 1954. For more than 40 years, he was pastor of the Mount Carmel Baptist Church in Gainesville, Florida. He served as president of the Alachua County branch of the NAACP for 17 years. He was 94.

Don Coan, B.A. 1950, died Oct. 2, 2014. Coan served as an election observer in Latin American before journeying to Cuba in 1994 with other activists to challenge the U.S. ban on traveling there. He later helped build a clinic in Northern California for an Indian tribe. He participated in several civil disobedience demonstrations and traveled to many countries in Asia, Africa and Latin America as an ambassador for Solar Cookers International. He was 87 years old.

Roselyn Payne Epps, B.S. 1951; M.D. 1955, a longtime member of the Department of Pediatrics and Child Health, died Sept. 30, 2014. Epps was a key advocate for preventive health, promoting child health programs and mental health services targeting underserved populations. Her innovative public programs and leadership in numerous professional organizations left an indelible mark in the field of pediatrics, nationally and internationally. She was the first woman and first AfricanAmerican president of the D.C. Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics. 

Leslie Surrey, B.S. 1950; M.D. 1956, died Nov. 3, 2014. Surrey, a native of British Guiana, came to the U.S. to study at Howard. While working at Germantown Hospital in Philadelphia, he opened his own private practice. He was an avid craftsman, devoting time away from the hospital to woodworking and family. He was 88 years old.

Robert Hillard, B.S. 1951, died Dec. 1, 2014. Hillard was the third Black student to graduate with a medical degree from the University of Texas in 1956. After an internship and a three-year tour of duty in the U.S. Air Force as a flight surgeon, he completed his residency in obstetrics and gynecology at the Bexar County Hospital in San Antonio. He was the first Black physician to receive specialty training at the hospital and the first African-American chief resident of obstetrics and gynecology at a major teaching hospital in the South. He entered private practice in July 1963. He was 83 years old.

Harold Webb, B.S. 1952, died Oct. 23, 2014. Webb was a retired colonel in the U.S. Army. He was a highly decorated veteran of the Korean and Vietnam wars. Webb was a member of Omega Psi Phi fraternity. He was 86 years old.

J. Pearson, L.L.B. 1958, died Oct. 22, 2014. Pearson often represented jailed civil rights movement protestors and was involved in landmark litigation that successfully challenged unlawful discrimination in public accommodations and employment practices. Pearson became the first Black assistant U.S. attorney for the Northern District of Alabama, appointed by President Lyndon B. Johnson. In 1974 he was one of two Black senators elected to the Alabama Senate. In 1984, he was appointed circuit judge in the criminal division. He was the first Black judge in the Birmingham Division of the 10th Judicial Circuit. He retired in 1999 and was inducted into the city of Birmingham’s Gallery of Distinguished Citizens. He was 84 years old.

Wilhelmina Brodie, B.A. 1959, died Oct. 16, 2014. Brodie was a teacher and media specialist in Augusta, Georgia, before retiring from her position. She was a member of the Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority. She was 78 years old.

James B. “Jimmie” Brown Jr. died Jan. 17, 2015, in his hometown of Smithfield, Virginia. Brown took full advantage of the Howard experience as an undergraduate. He worked as a resident assistant, played football and intramural basketball and was initiated into Omega Psi Phi fraternity through Alpha Chapter in 1957. He graduated from the School of Engineering and Architecture with a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering in 1962. Brown was a charter member of the Howard University Alumni Club of Hampton Roads, Virginia, and regularly worked with its members on a variety of special projects for the University. He was chairman of the committee that established the Dr. Charles R. Drew Foundation, which provides scholarships for students attending Howard University Medical School. His most sustained activity on behalf of the University was as a recruiter from the Tidewater region of Virginia, coordinating annual bus trips to Howard for 100 to 150 teenagers. Brown was known to tell the story of Howard University wherever he went.

Reggie Ray, a professor in the Department of Theatre Arts and a renowned costume designer, died Sept. 29, 2014. Ray joined the department in 1995. For two decades he mentored hundreds of students while designing costumes for numerous productions for the Kennedy Center, Studio Theatre, and for shows on Broadway. Ray believed that continuing to work in the industry benefited his students; one of his final productions, Stick Fly, ran on Broadway and featured his former student, Tracie Thomas (B.F.A. ’97). Ray was nominated for the prestigious Helen Hayes Award several times and claimed his own in 1994 for Spunk.

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