Sunday, July 3, 2022

Vassallo Interviews: Richard Howorth

Richard Howorth (owner of Square Books and former Mayor of Oxford) has enjoyed one of the more interesting lives of anyone who ever found Oxford or Lafayette County. Recently his life became even more enriched while exploring approximately some 500 books that have been in his family’s possession going back to the 1800s.

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Richard Howorth, owner of Square Books and former Mayor of Oxford

In 2010 Richard’s mother’s sister, Vasser Bishop, passed away. She had lived at the corner of 5th Street and Tyler for many years. Richard’s great grandparents had owned the house dating back to the early 1900s. Vasser’s father, David Bishop, was an English professor at Ole Miss from 1897-1952 and had accumulated many books
as one might expect. Some of these related to English literature and the famous poets and writers such as Shakespeare and Wordsworth. (There is a portrait of Professor Bishop in Bishop Hall on campus.) Vasser’s mother was Mary Hartwell Somerville Bishop.

Another relative of Richard’s (Ella Somerville, his great aunt) also had a large inventory of interesting books. Ella’s father was Dean of the Law School. Ella never married and  also enjoyed a most interesting history. She was an original member of the Marionettes, a drama group on campus that included William Faulkner and was named in honor of Faulkner’s first book. Ella was friends with Eudora Welty and Elizabeth Spencer. Ella owned a club in Oxford around the early 1930s called “The Tea Hound.” This was during prohibition and served as a setting for student dances and parties.
Ella passed away in 1974 and many of her books also found their way into the
collection that Richard is currently reviewing.

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Pictured is a newspaper clipping of a poem relating to the outcome of a Mississippi A & M (later Mississippi State) – Ole Miss football game played in the early 1900s at the Fairgrounds in Jackson.

While visiting with Richard recently, we flipped through the 1934 and 1938 Ole Miss yearbooks that are part of this inventory (1897 was the first year Ole Miss published a yearbook). The Somerville and Bishop family’s personal collection were intact for 3 generations. Some more recent treasures included are a signed copy of “Mississippi-The Closed Society” by James W. Silver and a pamphlet entitled “Price of Defiance” by Representative
Karl Wiesenburg. This is a reprint of articles appearing in The Chronicle, Pascagoula, MS between December 17-21, 1962.

One of the older treasures found was a a two volume set by a pastor in London, John Newton, that was published in 1836. The books contain his sermons, hymns and memoirs of his life. Newton is the author of the more famous hymn “Amazing Grace,” which appears obscurely in these books.

Inside some of the books were various things placed there for whatever reasons. One of the more interesting of these was a newspaper clipping of a poem relating to the outcome of a Mississippi A & M (later Mississippi State) – Ole Miss football game played in the early 1900s at the Fairgrounds in Jackson. As Richard continues to explore this vast collection, there will certainly be other exciting discoveries relating to Ole Miss history and beyond.

Turning to Square Books, next month will feature a most interesting memoir, “The Last Season” written by Stuart Stevens, who was Mitt Romney’s campaign manager (in his 2012 presidential bid). Following the election, Stuart decided to write a book about taking his dad (who was in his 90’s) to every Ole Miss game (save one) for the 2012 season. As a child Stuart had attended many of the games as well. Previously he has written a number
of books relating to travel and politics.


Steve Vassallo

Steve Vassallo is a HottyToddy.com contributor. Steve writes on Ole Miss athletics, Oxford business, politics and other subjects. He is an Ole Miss grad and former radio announcer for the basketball team. Currently, Steve is a highly successful leader in the real estate business who lives in Oxford with his wife Rosie. You can contact Steve at sovassallo@gmail.com or call him at 985-852-7745.

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