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Chief Tatum and Me

Gerald W. Walton was born in Neshoba County, Mississippi, on September 11, 1934. He graduated from Dixon High School and attended East Central Community College for two years. He graduated from the University of Southern Mississippi in 1956 and enrolled that fall at the University of Mississippi, where he received his master’s and Ph.D. degrees. After serving as an instructor for three years, he became an assistant professor of English in 1962 and was later promoted to associate and full professor. He served as Director of the Freshman English Program, Associate Dean of the College of Liberal Arts, Dean of the College of Liberal Arts, Associate Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs, Interim Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs on three occasions, and Provost. He retired in 1999 and continues to live in Oxford. Email Gerald Walton at gww@olemiss.edu.
One night, actually early one morning, in 1959, I was in graduate school and had studied late. A little background is in order before I continue the story. The George Street University House was at that time called just the University House, for it was operated by a University Club. The faculty members used the downstairs area as a meeting place, where they had coffee and soft drinks and snacks and played cards and dominos. On occasion, Chancellor Williams would join them for a quick cup of coffee.Seeing a HottyToddyNews photo recently reminded me that I am lucky to still be at Ole Miss. The photograph was of Chief Burns Tatum writing tickets in the area between Conner Hall and Weir Hall (Weir Hall at the time was where the Student Union was).
The University Club employed a fine lady to operate the snack bar, make coffee, serve the soft drinks and snacks, and clean up the place. She happened to be married to Burns Tatum, who was our chief of police. He was a huge, burly man without much of a sense of humor. But Mrs. Tatum and I became great friends, and through her, I met Chief Tatum and got to know him quite well.
The University Club rented four bedrooms upstairs to faculty members (I remember physicist Bob Kelly and mathematician Russell Stokes, for example) and advanced graduate students. At the time. I was the only occupant of one of the upstairs bedrooms.
Even though it was late that particular night, or early morning, I decided that I needed to get some laundry done and drove my 1951 Plymouth to a coin-operated Laundromat on East University Avenue. I was the only person I saw that night. This was before bars and before any restaurants stayed open late and before there was any reason for students and others to be on the Square or in other parts of the town late at night.
I finished my laundry and was driving back to the campus about 3 a. m. I didn’t meet or pass another car on the way back to the campus. Anxious to get a few hours of sleep before my first class, I was driving much faster than I should have been. But, as suggested, there was not a soul in sight on the campus. I made the curve to the right near Ventress Hall and the Croft Building and was getting ready to make the curve left just after going by the Croft Building. All of a sudden, somebody, followed by others, stepped out into the street in the area between the Croft Building and Bryant Hall. I managed to miss everybody all right, but I did get a pretty good view of some of the people, one of whom was Chief Burns Tatum.
I was pretty sure Chief Tatum had recognized me and my car, but I thought I would take a chance. I parked the Plymouth in a small parking lot between Physics and Martindale, ran into the University House, and jumped into bed without ever turning on a light.
I should have known better! About two minutes after I got into bed, someone knocked on my door. I invited him in, of course, and Chief Tatum stepped in and said simply, “Mr. Walton, are you aware that you almost ran over Dean Love!” Dean Love was the Dean of Student Affairs, the equivalent of the vice chancellor position today. There had been a panty raid at either Ricks or Ward or Hall (in the area of the current Student Union), and some administrators and the chief of police had been over to break it up.
The chief debated about what he should recommend in my case; after all I had almost hit the dean of students. My guess is that I could, and maybe should, have been expelled. But because of our friendship and his knowledge that I had learned a hard lesson, he decided to take no action besides that of giving me the stern lecture. I was a damned lucky student, allowed to complete my degrees and even to be employed here for an entire career.

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