Heritage Society Spotlight

by: Dr. Roger H. Compton ’61, PG ’64
Dean Emeritus, Webb Institute

I was introduced to Webb Institute of Naval Architecture quite by accident when I visited our high school guidance counsellor, Mr. Chiles, who was consoling me for not being the primary appointment in my class to attend the U.S. Naval Academy. He handed me a folded piece of paper with an anchor logo on it and said, “you’re interested in boats – you might be interested in this.” Thus began my life-long involvement with Webb.

After an interview with Admiral Haeberle, I was surprised – but delighted – to be offered a position in the Class of 1961 with 20 other young men from all over the U.S. Over the next four years, we bonded as a class, drank beer and ate pizza at Stango’s, struggled through Benny’s math courses and Doc Joe’s chemistry, metallurgy, and thermodynamics courses, and had many tales to tell about our Winter Work experiences. I enjoy telling my friends, who know nothing about Webb’s class size, that I graduated fifth in my class in both high school and college (without explaining that we had almost 600 in my high school class, but only 10 in the Webb Class of 1961)!

My first full-time job after graduation was at Electric Boat (EB) in Groton, CT, during the early days of the U.S. Navy’s Fleet Ballistic Missile (FBM) program. Exciting stuff! After working for a year in the Naval Architecture Department, I applied for a position in the EB Research Department. I was told that I needed more formal education. As it turned out, that was coincident with Webb offering a civilian master’s degree while working part-time in the newly formed Webb Research Department. George Kerr, Webb ’59, classmate Charlie Pieroth, and I were chosen to be in the first class. I was fortunate to have been able to take a couple of courses at Stevens Institute with Dan Savitsky and to be sent to IBM Headquarters in Manhattan to learn FORTRAN. That training allowed me to become the “computer guy” at Webb and to teach a few sessions of programming to Prof. Otto Karst’s junior math students. That experience, along with the superb mentoring of Bob Zubaly (Webb ’55), Norm Hamlin (Webb ‘44B), and Dean Tom Curran (Webb 1925) were instrumental in getting me to apply for a faculty position at the U.S. Naval Academy (USNA). During my 32-year tenure, my colleagues and I were able to establish an ABET-accredited major in naval architecture and build a world-class towing tank. Among the great young midshipmen that I had the pleasure to mentor, was Tom Kiss (USNA ’88), the son of Ron (Webb ’63) and June Kiss (Hon.).

While in Annapolis, I became involved in a very active community theater culture and, in 1981, was cast as Curly in Oklahoma! Guess who was Laurie? Jill and I have been together – and making music – ever since. Jill has made my life complete.

In August of 1998 I retired from USNA to accept the best job on the planet – to be the Dean of Webb Institute, while enjoying the shortest commute on Long Island. Although it was difficult to leave USNA and Annapolis, a dinner with Ron and June Kiss at which we discussed our mutual “adventure in Glen Cove,” sealed the deal for Jill and me. We thoroughly enjoyed our 13-year tenure during which we were able to introduce a small craft design experience with a formal presentation to an invited panel of professionals to juniors (SD 1), and to encourage Webbies – students and staff – to enjoy and participate in musical and theatrical activities. We were most proud of the success of the Webb Family Singers (aka the WooFS) and the two fully staged productions at our 2010 and 2011 Homecomings. After officially retiring in 2011 – the 50th anniversary of my Webb graduation – we were delighted to enjoy an encore year to teach a couple of naval architecture courses to the Classes of 2017 and 2019. From about 2005 until 2019, we enjoyed getting to know incoming freshman classes with the freehand drawing “coursette” offered the week before classes actually started.

In December 2016, we sold our boats and home on Maryland’s Eastern Shore and moved to a retirement community in Vero Beach, Florida. What we found was a town with many opportunities to sing, play water volleyball, and ride our bikes. Our two real boats have been replaced by three remote-controlled model sailboats – fun, but not quite the same as the real thing!

We are happy to be charter members of the Heritage Society when we named Webb the beneficiary of a life insurance policy and named Webb, along with my kids, Dawn, and Brian, to divide up the balance of our estate.

Without a doubt, I owe everything that I accomplished in my professional career to Webb Institute.