A famed African-American chemist and inventor died Friday in a fire at his Oxon Hill, Md., home, the Washington Post reports.
George Nauflett, 84, earned more than two dozen patents for his inventions while working in a U.S. Navy government laboratory for more than four decades.
His son, Derrick Nauflett, told the Post in an interview Sunday that when people made the joke about someone not being a “rocket scientist,” George Nauflett took particular delight in saying, “Actually, I am.”
The cause of the fire that took Nauflett’s life is still under investigation. Nauflett and his wife, Minnie, both tried to escape the smoke-filled home together, but only Minnie Nauflett made it.
According to the Post, George Nauflett grew up in the segregated South in a one-bedroom house with his aunt and left school after the eighth grade. The determined inventor still managed to beat the odds. Nauflett joined the Air Force when he was just 19 and took advantage of the educational opportunities provided by the post-World War II GI Bill. Nauflett went on to enroll at Tougaloo College in Jackson, Miss., and majored in chemistry before later attending Howard University for graduate school.
“He was a brilliant man. His passion was science,” Derrick Nauflett told the Post of his father. “Growing up, it was a lot of fun because he was heavily involved in all of our science projects. He was very engaged with all of his kids early on. He was very in tune to helping us find what our passions were.”
Nauflett’s extensive work was featured in a 2004 book, The Inventive Spirit of African Americans: Patented Ingenuity. According to the Post, he developed a material that was used on a satellite that the Americans and Russians sent into outer space.
The Post notes a Voice of America article about the book, in which Nauflett described the challenges he faced as a black man in a challenging field where no one quite looked like him.
“People don’t believe you can do the things you do,” he said. “They say you’re just lucky. But when you keep doing it over and over again, you end up proving yourself.”
Derrick Nauflett said that one of the last things his father and mother did together was vote early in the presidential election.
“It was an absolute must in our family,” Derrick Nauflett said. “He taught us if you don’t vote, you don’t have the right to complain.”
Derrick Nauflett also described how his father had recently lost some mobility in his legs and had to use an electric scooter or walker to get around comfortably.
“I feel blessed that he had 84 years. He was always so active, and now he has his legs back,” Derrick Nauflett said. “That’s where I get my relief from. That’s where I draw my peace from. He is now whole up in heaven.”
Read more at the Washington Post.