Massey was the right one

Indian River Magazine Associate Publisher and IRSC President Ed Massey
Indian River Magazine Associate Publisher and IRSC President Ed Massey in 2018 when Osteen, also president of East Coast Lumber, received the IRSC foundation’s Entrepreneur of the Year award. CHRISTINA TASCON

BY GREGORY ENNS

Back when Associate Publisher Allen Osteen and I launched this modest publishing effort 14 years ago, we set out on a mission to visit several key community leaders to let them know what we were doing. At the top of our list to visit was Ed Massey, the president of Indian River State College.

Massey accepted our meeting request. I had been away from the Treasure Coast for 22 years but vaguely recalled Massey’s days as an assistant administrator while I was a reporter covering the college for the Fort Pierce News-Tribune in the 1980s.

The college’s president at the time, Herman Heise, had expanded the college from its main campus in Fort Pierce to all three neighboring Treasure Coast counties and established the school’s renowned swimming program. Despite his many accomplishments as head of the public college, Heise, a former Central Intelligence Agency officer, was inclined to keep college operations and decision-making internal, avoiding the media and minimizing public outreach. This modus left the college disconnected with the community when Heise retired after a two-year ethics probe.

The college’s trustees chose Massey to replace Heise, despite an editorial on Sunday, Jan. 24, 1988, that suggested the college should clear the slate and select a candidate from the outside. “Massey’s the one?’’ the editorial’s headline wondered.

Fast forward to Massey’s meeting with Allen and me in his office in 2006 as we started this magazine. As Allen and I sat down in Massey’s office on that day, he asked me how I was related to the late Bob Enns, the longtime editor of the News-Tribune. I offered that I was his son.

Then he told us about how when he was being considered as a candidate for president of the college in 1988 that my dad had written an editorial against the prospect of him becoming president. Turns out my dad was the author of the “Massey’s the one?” editorial. Not recalling the editorial, I braced myself for what might come next. Would Massey tell me just what he thought of my dad and the editorial and show us the door?

Instead, in his kindly southern drawl, Massey told us the story of how after he was selected president he called my dad to schedule a meeting with him. In that first meeting, which lasted more than an hour, Massey told my dad how he was going to turn the college around. “We became friends after that,’’ Massey told me recently.

So, as Massey prepares to retire in August after 32 years as the college’s president and as only the third in the college’s 60-year history, I share this anecdote as an example of how he connected the college to the community one person at a time, building a legion of supporters along the way. It was also an extraordinary display of humility, revealing the vulnerability he felt at the time of the editorial. In fact, to this day, he still keeps the editorial in his office.

By coincidence, as we prepared the special section inside this issue commemorating the college’s 60-year anniversary, we ran into resistance on profiling Massey, a humble man who insisted that the story focus on the accomplishments at the college during his three decades instead of on him. Luckily, we assigned Bernie Woodall to the task of covering the Massey years. Bernie himself was a product of an Indian River State College associate’s degree, before embarking on a distinguished media career, including 21 years as a reporter at Reuters.

Most important, Bernie had spent his early career at the Fort Pierce News-Tribune as a sports writer. In just a few minutes of their first meeting, Bernie had gotten Massey to open up about his athletic career at Millsaps College, where he earned 10 letters in three sports. You get the idea that it was on the field of sports in the Deep South, where people remember you by your jersey number, that Massey acquired his leadership and team-building abilities. In Bernie’s profile on Massey, you’ll also learn how his background as a scientist — he began his career as a biology professor — brought a problem-solving approach to managing the college.

Throughout it all, Massey remained laser-focused on preparing a work force for Treasure Coast businesses. Today, there are few places in the four counties that a college program doesn’t touch. Massey’s accomplishments are considerable, culminating in having IRSC named the top community college in the nation last year by the Aspen Institute. As former Florida Senate President Ken Pruitt says, “Candidly, I wouldn’t want to be the person to follow him.’’

So by way of intergenerational tribute, I offer the above headline and this column. Good luck on your retirement, Ed, and thank you for your service to the college and the community.

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