Moving on: Ed Montgomery

Posted by Centre News in Chemistry, News 15 Jun 2017

Ed MontgomeryThe faculty are the core of Centre College. Of all the College’s constituencies, they are the ones who are here the longest. It is they who nurture the culture of the place—the sense of common purpose, the collegiality and the passion and energy—and that they share so enthusiastically with their students. This spring, seven of our most venerable professors retired. Before moving on to new adventures, they took time to answer a few questions for our summer issue of Centrepiece.

In 1971, I was interviewed by Admiral Hyman Rickover for a position in the Naval Nuclear Power Program. At the end of the interview, which lasted about a minute, he asked, “Why do you want to be in my program?” My off-the-cuff answer was “I like to solve problems.” It must have been the right answer because I spent most of the next 28 years in naval nuclear power. It was probably a better answer than I appreciated at the time since problem-solving is what I’ve most enjoyed at Centre.

For nine years, I was basically the Navy’s test pilot for new submarines. Someone has to say that the ship that cost $600 million can perform its mission, and I was that someone. You go to sea on a ship that has never left the pier and see if you can break it. All of this takes about 30 sleepless hours. I took 17 submarines on their initial sea trials.

When I retired from the Navy in 1999, I gave myself a year to figure out what I wanted to do next. About halfway through that year, I saw an ad in Chemical and Engineering News for a sabbatical replacement at Centre. Even though I’d grown up in Lancaster, about 12 miles east of Danville, I’d never set foot on the Centre campus. I visited Centre and discovered that Preston Miles ’70, whom I had known in graduate school at the University of Kentucky, and Phil Lockett ’71, with whom I had served in the Navy, were on the Centre faculty. I applied for the position, and I’ve been here ever since.

I hope my students understand that the final exam for which I’m preparing them is not the one that’s scheduled at the end of the term. I’m trying to get them ready for the moment five years from now when they are casting a vote on a technical issue or the Friday afternoon when their boss hands them a stack of paper and says, “I want you to dig into this and Monday tell me what I think about it.”

Actually, college teaching isn’t all that different from what I did in the Navy. Both jobs are built around showing people in their late teens and early 20s that they can do things they think they can’t do.

by Ed Montgomery