Chef Sly To Retire from Duke Marine Lab after 42 Years

May 19, 2017

Tim Lucas, (919) 613-8084 or

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By Sergio Tovar, social media specialist

DURHAM, N.C. – Much has changed since Sylvester Murray’s first day at the Duke University Marine Lab as a 19-year-old in August 1975. But Sly’s caring attention and warm, friendly smile became a staple of the Beaufort, N.C., campus during his 42 years of service.

Murray’s long tenure as the Marine Lab’s head chef ends Friday, May 19. His official retirement is June 1.

Murray was awarded the Duke Presidential Award, the university’s highest employee honor, in 2005.

“That was the pinnacle,” he said. “That was a very proud moment in my life.”

Murray also won the Joseph P. Pietrantoni Award for outstanding employees the previous year.

Dominick Brugnolotti, director of campus services at the Marine Lab, likes to tell the story of how on a trip to Cancun, Mexico, a bank manager approached him after noticing the logo on his polo and asked, “Duke Marine Lab, do you know Sly?”

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Sly and Dean Sue Wasiolek singing (photo by Nathan Miller)

"He's an institution here," Brugnolotti said when he nominated Murray for the Presidential Award.

Murray started at the Marine Lab as a part-time housekeeper while he took community college classes. After the island’s dining hall opened, its head cook needed an assistant and Murray got the job.

“It went quickly from being a job to something I really enjoyed doing,” he said.

Murray said that one of his favorite aspects of working at DUML was getting to interact with such a diverse group of students – everyone from his native Eastern North Carolina to China. He picked up many recipes from international students who he was trying to help feel more at home.

He compiled some of those recipes, what he learned from cooking classes Duke sent him to and what he grew up cooking into his cookbook, Down Home Coastal, Exotic, and Traditional Cooking, which was published in 2009. It’s still in the shelves of the DUML Ship’s Store and at Duke University Stores on West Campus.

The Marine Lab threw Murray a retirement party on May 5, when he received a scrapbook full of memories from current and former faculty, staff and students dating back to the 70s. He said he got unexpectedly emotional.

“When you devote your life to doing something, to taking care of folks, it’s nice to know that after 42 years your efforts were truly appreciated,” Murray said

Sly said he’ll miss the people at the Marine Lab, but he’ll also miss the island itself.

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Sly and his wife (photo by Nathan Miller)

“That island was pretty much like my playground for 42 years,” he said. 

Murray has an open invitation to visit the campus whenever he wants. Maybe he’ll bring along the fishing poles he received at his retirement party.

“That was really, really nice,” he said. “My wife and I already went and broke them in a few days ago.”