By: Claire Winesett
Kermit Carraway gained a lot from his time at Mississippi State: a degree, many memorable experiences, a wife and a middle name for his son.
Originally from Utica, Mississippi, Carraway graduated from MSU in 1962 with a Bachelor of Science degree in chemistry. He finished in the top five in his class.
While Carraway enjoyed MSU traditions such as basketball with Bailey Howell at the old gym (McCarthy Gymnasium), he also had many unique experiences during his time as a student.
“I was a resident in Old Main when it burned to the ground,” Carraway said. “My room was about 100 feet down the hall from the room where the fire started. A friend woke me, I threw on a jacket and we went downstairs to watch the fire get put out. I never got back to my room, as the fire got into a dusty attic with no fire walls and exploded around the building in about a minute.”
Carraway said that he lost everything in the fire. When the new semester started, he was placed in a regular dorm room with three other freshmen. “You haven't lived until you have lived in a tiny dorm room with three other guys!”
Carraway’s wife, Coralie Carothers, was also at MSU at this time. Coralie received her degree in chemistry and biology from MSU in 1961. The two met in a humanities class, but Carraway said that they developed a relationship in their qual organic chemistry class, which happened to be his favorite class he took at MSU. The class was taught by Dr. Lyell Behr, a man Carraway would later consider a great mentor and who would later become Dean of the College of Arts & Sciences. He said that Behr “helped me develop my confidence as a chemist and got me into graduate school.”
After Carraway graduated in 1962, he and Coralie got married. Their son’s middle name is Lyell, named after their influential professor and mentor.
The newlyweds moved to Urbana, Illinois, for Carraway to pursue his Ph.D. in chemistry from the University of Illinois. He completed his Ph.D. in 1966, and the Carraway’s moved to Berkeley, California, where Carraway was a National Institutes of Health (NIH) postdoctoral fellow in biochemistry. In 1968, he began his academic career as an assistant professor of biochemistry at Oklahoma State University, and over the years he moved up the ranks to associate professor, professor and regents professor. In 1981, the Carraways left Oklahoma and moved to Miami, Florida, where Carraway became the chair of the anatomy department in the University of Miami School of Medicine.
During Carraway’s time in Miami, the department’s research emphasis moved to cell biology, and the department name changed to the Department of Biology and Anatomy.
“We became one of the top-funded departments in this area,” Carraway said.
He describes one of his greatest successes as “Becoming chair of the anatomy department at the University of Miami School of Medicine even though I had never had a course in anatomy or biology. I was a self-taught cell biologist and was hired to build a research component in cell biology in the department. Within five years we were in the top 20% of anatomy departments in NIH funding.”
Carraway stepped down from chair in 1997, and in 2010 he retired as Emeritus Professor and Chair of the Department of Cell Biology and Anatomy.
“I was funded by NIH for forty years of my research career and published over 200 articles in biochemistry, cell biology and cancer research, many with my wife,” Carraway said.
Looking back on his time at MSU, Carraway says that the College of Arts & Sciences prepared him for his future endeavors in academia.
“The rigor in the chemistry program taught me discipline and competitiveness to succeed later,” Carraway said.
Carraway’s advice for current and future MSU students is, “You only live once, and the time is very short. Work hard, but you must enjoy what you are doing, or it is not worth the effort.”
The Carraways retired to Auburn, California, in order to be close to their son and daughter. Carraway said that their primary interest is “international travel, having visited a dozen or so new countries since retiring in 2010. I also love to read history and historical fiction and help my wife with her political activities.”
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