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Blog: The Encyclopedia for Southern Studies in France

hqdefaultBy Ron Borne, HT.com blogger

The recent celebration of the release of Volume 24 of The New Encyclopedia of Southern Culture brought back memories of a trip I took to Paris and Versailles several years ago.  Chancellor Robert Khayat asked me to represent the university as part of a delegation the State of Mississippi was sending to Versailles to sign the contract securing the Versailles Exhibit in Jackson. The exhibit would be historical since this would be only the second time that Versailles has loaned items for an exhibit outside of France.

The impressive delegation consisted of Pat Fordice, First Lady of the State of Mississippi, Kane Ditto, Mayor of the City of Jackson, Sen. Dick Hall, Chairman of the Mississippi Senate Appropriations Committee, Lenore Barkley, Executive Director, of the Vicksburg Convention and Visitors Bureau, Pat Connell, Marketing Director of Delta Airlines, William H. Cooke, Jr., Architect of the firm of Cooke, Douglass, Farr & Lemons, Rick Hale, Executive Director of Blue Cross/Blue Shield Insurance, Dr. George M. Harmon, President of Millsaps College, Brent Harrison of the  University of Mississippi Medical Center, Bill Jones, Financial Consultant, James Lenoir, James Moore and E.B. Robinson, Jr., CEO, of Deposit Guaranty Bank, Dr.  Raymond Martin of Jackson, Mississippi, Billy Mounger of  Mounger Investments, Tom Pittman, Editor of the Daily Journal Newspaper, Douglas C. Rule of the Mississippi  State Treasurer’s Office, Roger Saterstrom, Executive Director of Natchez Pilgrimage Tours, Thomas B. Shepard, III of the  Wadkins Ludlam Law Firm, Dr. Robert R. Smith of Jackson, Mississippi and Kenneth Williams, President, Corinth Coca-Cola Bottling Company.  Nearly every member brought his or her spouse. The delegation was led by William “Buck” Stevens, Executive Director of the Mississippi State Board of Pharmacy and Jack Kyle, Executive Director of the Mississippi Commission for International Cultural Exchange.  How could I possibly refuse the Chancellor’s invitation to represent Ole Miss?

Prior to my departure I had suggested to Chancellor Khayat’s assistant, Linda Spargo, that as the representative from The University of Mississippi it might be appropriate for me to present gifts of appreciation to the Director of Versailles, Monsieur Babelon, and to the U.S. Ambassador to France, Pamela Churchill Harriman, from our Chancellor on behalf of the University of Mississippi.  She arranged, through Patricia Huggins, for me to bring two gift-wrapped copies of the Encyclopedia of Southern Culture (autographed by Bill Ferris and Charles Wilson) to present to these individuals on behalf of Chancellor Khayat. I lugged those expansive books in a separate carrying case across the ocean.

Our first official function was to visit the Château de Versailles.  After viewing the famous statue of Louis XIV sculpted by Bernini in 1665 (which was recast and exhibited in Jackson), the delegation was given a tour of the palace.  Since the Château is closed to visitors on Mondays we were essentially given a private tour of the Château and its treasures. Following the tour, the Director of Versailles, Monsieur Jean-Pierre Babelon, hosted an elegant luncheon for the entire delegation in the Crusades Rooms.

At the luncheon Mayor Kane Ditto and Mrs. Foridce presented gifts to Msr. Babelon on behalf of the City of Jackson and the State of Mississippi, respectively.  When I presented the Director with his gift from The University of Mississippi he said, through an interpreter, that he was honored whenever he was in the presence of a university professor and was particularly pleased that Chancellor Khayat was considerate to give him such an impressive gift. He immediately opened the Encyclopedia and was ecstatic, pointing to a photograph and exclaiming “Ooh, Windsor Ruins!” He knew more about us than I thought. Following the luncheon, Msr. Babelon’s assistant, Ms. Aude Meltzer, presented me with a gift from Msr. Babelon – a lapel pin depicting the symbol of Versailles – to present to Chancellor Khayat.

The delegation was then treated to an exciting, and rare, concert of baroque music in the Royal, or King’s, Chapel and then adjourned to a room just off the Galerie des Glaces (the famous Hall of Mirrors in which the Treaty of Versailles was signed in 1919) where the official signing of the exhibit contract took place.  Following the signing Director Babelon addressed the delegation and said in his remarks that his hope was for the Exhibition to improve the relationship of the youth of America with the youth of France.  He then noted the special relationship that the people of France have with Americans and said, “I am convinced that every American has a piece of Versailles at the bottom of its heart and your presence here is proof that I am right.” The Cultural Attaché from the U.S. Embassy, Mr. Jack Hogan, was present and he also noted the special relationship of France and Mississippi by pointing out that France has recognized several Mississippians as recipients of the prestigious French literary prize, the Chevalier Awards for Letters and Arts.  He particularly noted French recognition of Eudora Welty, Richard Ford, and Ole Miss Writer-in-Residence, Barry Hannah.  Activities concluded with a champagne reception.  This was a very special day for Mississippi and Ole Miss.

The following day (election day in the U.S.) the delegation was treated to a tour of Faubourg St. Honore, the residence of the U.S. Ambassador to France.  Following the tour U.S. Ambassador Pamela Churchill Harriman met with the delegation at a coffee in the large and elegant reception room. Mayor Ditto and Mrs. Fordice presented their gifts to Ambassador Harriman.  I was then invited to present the Ole Miss gift to the Ambassador.  She was impressed when told that the gift-wrapped book was the Encyclopedia for Southern Culture and she said, “The contribution of Southern culture to our great country cannot be understated.  Please express my appreciation to Chancellor Khayat and The University of Mississippi for this excellent book which will be displayed here in the Embassy.” She placed the encyclopedia on the table at the entrance to the residence.

The day’s activities concluded with a visit to the Place Vendôme and the House of Chaumet, jewelers famous for the necklace made for Napoleon’s wife, Marie Louise, on the occasion of the birth of their son.  In a room above Chaumet, which is the oldest room on the Place Vendôme and the room where the famous pianist Chopin died in 1848, Madame Beatrice LeBlanc hosted a champagne reception for the delegation and recounted the history of that room, the jewelry firm, and the Place Vendôme.  She showed a video depicting the history of the House of Chaumet.  Amazingly, the music accompanying this video included Mississippian Leontyne Price singing “O Mio Babbino Caro”, a small coincidence that reminded us of the bond between Mississippi and France.

I am glad I remembered advice given me long ago by my Dad, “If a Chancellor or a President asks you to do something, then do it.” I will be forever grateful to Chancellor Khayat for asking me to perform this difficult assignment!

A New Orleans native, Ron Borne is a medicinal chemist by experience, and an amateur writer by avocation.  He served Ole Miss and the School of Pharmacy as a teacher, researcher and administrator for more than 40 years and is now “retired” and living in his center of the universe. Email him at  rfborne@yahoo.com

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