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Leadership Award

 Samuel O. Massey 

U.S. Air Force
Holmes Community College, Mississippi

By Madeline Patton

Over his lifetime, Samuel O. Massey has found a way to combine his surgical skills with his love of flying and his care for the poor as a self-funded medical missionary. He has spent more than $1 million on medical missions in the United States in Central America and has funded a $500,000 scholarship program that will help the poor as it helps students at his Holmes Community College alma mater.

It was a casual conversation with "some other country boys" and the dean of the Goodman, Miss., community college in the early 1950s that changed his life, Massey says. When Dean Ernest W. Wilson joined the group, the conversation turned to the possibility of the men studying agriculture so they could improve their families’ farms.

Massey, who had not planned to become a farmer, asked, "What about me? What should I do?" The dean told the 21-year-old Air Force veteran that based on his aptitude tests, he should go into medicine.

Massey wasted no time. He filled his Holmes schedule with math and science courses, transferred to the University of Tennessee, and earned his medical degree there within five years of that casual conversation. "I could never have done that except in small classes and going year round" at Holmes, he says.

Massey had a general medical and surgical practice in Picayune, Miss., until 1969 when he began an ear, nose and throat program at Tulane Medical School in New Orleans. Afterward, he began a general otolaryngology, maxillofacial reconstruction, and cosmetic surgery practice.

Medicine, however, was not his first love. When he joined the Air Force as a 17-year-old enlisted man in 1947, he had hoped to become a fighter pilot. He learned after enlisting that he was too young, and lacked the required bachelor’s degree. He left with the rank of sergeant in 1951 and entered Holmes.

Nineteen years later he joined the Air Force Reserve as a major. Though he never became a fighter pilot, Massey—who had obtained a pilot’s license on his own—did have the joy of seeing a son he taught to fly win the Top Gun award at an Air Force competition. When the Air Force offered him a chance to return to active duty in 1986 to practice medicine, it was agreed that Massey could take the back seat of an F-15 jet fighter and receive special leaves for medical missionary work.

The Air Force honored Massey for his illustrious military and medical career in 1993, giving him its Excaliber Award as the most outstanding surgeon in the Air Force. He was also honored in 1993 with the National Otolaryngology Head and Neck Surgery humanitarian award.

Throughout his practice, Massey has given free medical care to patients who could not afford it. The scholarship program he has established at Holmes for students who want to become physicians or study in a medically related field continues that tradition, using the Biblical teaching about tithing as a guide.

The scholarship program covers all education-related expenses throughout a student’s training. In return, scholarship winners—whom Massey mentors—must commit 10 percent of their time to serving the poor or give 10 percent of their income to continuing the scholarship fund once they become medical professionals.

Nine Massey scholars are currently in pre-med studies. Eighteen others have finished their training in nursing, pharmacy, physical therapy and other fields. Many have accompanied Massey on medical missions to Appalachia and the Mississippi Delta and overseas in Haiti, Belize, Dominica, and St. Vincent.

"I realize that when I get older I won’t be able to do quite as much," Massey told the Jackson, Miss., Clarion-Ledger when he established the Holmes scholarship in 1989. "I hope that by then there will be some younger people to fill in."

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