Extra-Long Battery Life

UM electrochemist and dean looks back on four decades at university

Chuck (right) and Jolie Hussey vacation in Boothbay Harbor, Maine. Submitted photo

OXFORD, Miss. – This semester marks the first time in 43 years that Charles L. “Chuck” Hussey, associate dean for research and graduate education in the College of Liberal Arts and a distinguished professor of chemistry and biochemistry, hasn’t awakened to his 7 a.m. alarm to get ready for a day serving the University of Mississippi.

Hussey, who retired in December, has traded his office in Ventress Hall for more informal venues. His favorite spots are his beach house on the Alabama Gulf Coast – where he and his wife, Jolee, enjoy boating with their son, Charlie, daughter-in-law, Lindsay, and grandchildren Olivia, Charles and Maddie – and his remote cabin in Montana, where he loves to ride his four-wheeler in the backcountry and go fly-fishing.

He and Jolee, a retired Oxford High School librarian, who will celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary this summer, also plan to spend time along the coast of Maine, one of their favorite vacation spots.

On his first day of retirement, Hussey admitted to feeling a little lost.

“No emails with urgent business to attend, no Zoom staff meeting with the dean, no forms to approve for faculty in liberal arts,” he said. “It will be hard to adjust to a more peaceful life and to know you can sleep late without regret … but not too hard.”

Hussey grew up in Ocean Springs and graduated from Ocean Springs High School in 1966. He remembers clearly an interesting story about his high school days.

Charles L. Hussey retired in December as associate dean for research and graduate education in the College of Liberal Arts and a distinguished professor of chemistry and biochemistry. Photo by Kevin Bain/Ole Miss Digital Imaging Services

He often attended post-football game parties in the Ocean Springs Community Center, which became the Walter Anderson Museum in 1991. The facility is the site of Anderson’s monumental 3,000-square-foot murals, which show a montage of birds and landscapes on the Mississippi Coast.

Hussey ruefully recalls that he and some classmates were in charge of a “senior class project, and we thought that it would be a great idea to ‘beautify’ the community center by painting over these strange old murals that were painted in 1951-1952,” he said.

Luckily, a favorite teacher who was the senior class sponsor told the group, “I think those murals are going to be important someday. I don’t think you should paint over them.”

Fortunately, Hussey and his classmates heeded her advice.

In the fall of 1966, Hussey entered UM as a freshman chemistry major to explore a lifelong interest in science. “I love biology as well, and with my coastal background, I strongly considered going into marine biology,” he said.

As an undergraduate, Hussey pledged Alpha Tau Omega fraternity. During his junior year, he met Jolee on a blind date, arranged by the future wife of his fraternity roommate. Jolee, a sociology and history major, had just transferred to Ole Miss from Millsaps.

“We went to a homecoming party together and have been together ever since,” he said.

While studying chemistry, Hussey decided to join the Air Force ROTC program. The Vietnam War was raging and the Air Force was desperate for officers with backgrounds in the physical sciences and engineering.

Hussey was chosen for the program and given a three-year delay from activity duty to pursue a doctorate in chemistry. With such a small window for completion of the degree, he decided to stay at Ole Miss.

After earning his Ph.D. and entering active duty at the rank of first lieutenant, he put his science expertise to work for the U.S. Air Force. He and Jolee moved in 1974 to the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, where he did research at the Frank J. Seiler Research Laboratory, which was part of Air Force Systems Command.

He received the Air Force Commendation Medal for his work on the development of molten salt-based thermal batteries and also received patents on a number of inventions related to such batteries.

“Because of the war, the military was very interested in the development of high-energy batteries to power warheads,” Hussey said.

He also served as a lecturer in the academy’s Department of Chemistry.

Capt. Chuck Hussey (right) and his wife, Jolee, and infant son, Charlie, pose for a picture at the U.S. Air Force Academy, where he taught and conducted research, in May 1977. Submitted photo

“I remember being particularly impressed with a very bright, outstanding cadet who took one of my freshman chemistry classes,” Hussey recalled. “He graduated with honors from the academy, and he rose rapidly through the ranks, being promoted to brigadier general at a very young age.

“These were the kinds of kids that I was privileged to teach at the Air Force Academy.”

He also taught chemistry to the first female cadets to be admitted to the academy.

In 1978, shortly after attaining the rank of captain, Hussey transitioned from active duty to the Air Force Reserve and returned to academia, a lifelong goal. After weighing offers from several schools, he accepted a position at his alma mater as an assistant professor of chemistry for the grand salary of $17,000 a year.

On campus, he rapidly moved up in academic rank, becoming a full professor in 1987. He retired from the Air Force Reserve in 1994 at the rank of lieutenant colonel. In 1997, he was promoted to department chair, a position that he held until 2017, when he became associate dean for research and graduate education in the College of Liberal Arts.

Asked why he wanted to be department chair, Hussey responded, “I didn’t, but nobody else wanted to do it either!”

He said that he was encouraged to apply for the position by Chancellor Robert Khayat, and he accepted the post when it was offered to him.

“How could I possible refuse him?” Hussey said.

As chair, Hussey helped transform the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry into a successful research department by hiring top-notch young, research-oriented faculty members, renovating the existing Coulter Hall facilities and overseeing the construction of a $15 million annex for world-class research space.

“Under Dr. Hussey’s leadership, the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry experienced unprecedented growth and established itself as a leading program,” Chancellor Glenn Boyce said. “The changes Dr. Hussey spearheaded expanded resources and allowed the university to attract many highly talented faculty members and exceptional students.

“He’s also a prolific scholar, innovative researcher, and dedicated teacher and adviser. We are grateful for the lasting impact of his legacy, which will benefit the university for many years to come.”

The Hussey family gathers at the 2016 Sugar Bowl to watch Ole Miss take on Oklahoma State. They are (back row, from left) Charlie Hussey, associate commissioner of the Southeastern Conference, and Chuck Hussey; (middle row) Jolee Hussey and Lindsay Hussey, Charlie’s wife; and (front row) Olivia Hussey, Charles Hussey and Maddie Hussey. Submitted photo

Coulter Hall, which was completed in 1977, met no modern safety codes after 20 years and had to be refurbished – while classes took place inside. Chemistry courses are required by several degree programs on campus and serve pre-health students as well.

“It was like doing surgery on a horse while it’s running a race,” he said. “You’d walk down the hall and welding sparks would be falling out of the ceiling. Fortunately, our students and faculty took this as a positive challenge, and we never had to shut down any classes.”

In 2019, Hussey was selected as a distinguished professor of chemistry. Over his long career, some of his other honors include being selected as a fellow of the Electrochemical Society, receiving the Research and Development Magazine Top 100 Award for innovative discovery, the SEC Faculty Achievement Award, the UM Faculty Achievement Award and the UM Research, Scholarship and Creative Achievement Award.

Along with these professional honors and accolades, Hussey is particularly proud that he was recognized with the Life Every Voice Award for Diversity and Inclusion during Black History Month. He backs this up by noting that he graduated the department’s first Black Ph.D. student and that he hired, tenured and promoted both the first woman and the first Black chemistry faculty members in the university’s history.

One of his greatest joys as a professor has been the friendships that he has shared with colleagues and the many outstanding students that he has taught, a large number of whom occupy professional positions. During his career, he has graduated 26 Ph.D. and M.S. students and published more than 150 scientific articles in refereed journals.

During his retirement, he will continue to serve as associate editor of the Journal of The Electrochemical Society and plans to continue being an active researcher.