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Walton: Remembering Dr. A.W. Green at the University of Mississippi

aw green When my family doctor in Union, Mississippi, learned that I would be attending graduate school in English at Ole Miss, he said something like “Oh, I hope you take every course Dr. Green offers. My favorite courses from undergraduate school through medical school were the courses offered by Dr. Green, and I still have all of the books from his English novels courses.”

When I tell older students that I went to graduate school at Ole Miss, almost always Dr. A.W. Green is the first person asked about.

Of course I did take courses under Dr. Green, because such things as Old English were required for a master’s degree. I came to know him, to love him, to admire him and to envy him. By the time I got to know him, the department chair did not give him directions; instead, Dr. Green told the department chair what classes he would teach each semester, where the classes would meet and when the classes would meet.

I envied Dr. Green partly because he had such a tremendous mind and because he had, as far as I could tell, memorized everything he taught and therefore did not have to spend time in class preparation.

There is a fairly large lobby area at the entrance to the Graduate Building (people nowadays refer to it Bondurant Hall, but the sign at the back entrance still refers to the Graduate Building). Once some prankster put a canoe in the lobby area. When people began to arrive for 8 o’clock classes one morning, Dr. Green was standing in the middle of the canoe, his textbook under his arm, and quoting Beowulf from memory!

Before the days when computers were in great use, registration was held in the old gymnasium (Martindale) or, later, the coliseum. Registration sheets, which essentially became class rolls, were used, with a person’s name listed on the sheet when he or she was enrolled. Dr. Green was not required to work at one of the tables, but he would circulate now and then. He would ask one of the persons at the English table to show him the sheets for his classes. At some point he would simply walk away with each class sheet, with some comment like “I believe ten students will make for a good class”! Nobody else on the English faculty – maybe nobody else at the University – could have gotten away with that type of action.

In our Old English classes, we were given assignments to read in Old English, and then in class Dr. Green would call on students to translate selections from the assignment. Once a student was having great difficulty and became very flustered and upset. Dr. Green said, “Now just calm down, Miss Huddleston. It is your native language. It will come back to you!”

Dr. Green did not especially enjoy grading papers and usually made decisions about students’ performance well before the end of a semester. In those days, students could give professors self-addressed postal cards and receive information about their final grades that way. Once a friend and I gave Dr. Green postcards just before we begin the examination. During the exam Dr. Green left the building for a while. After the examination was over, my friend and I went directly to the post office to check our mail. Our postcards with our final grades were already in our boxes!

As I have indicated, Dr. Green did not assume that rules and regulations applied to him. I signed up for an 8 o’clock class one summer. He came to the first class at eight and said, “It is so invigorating in the early morning, don’t you think? Our class from now on will begin at seven.” And so it did!

It is said that the director of the physical plant was always provided with the teaching schedule for Dr. Green. I did not witness his chewing out of somebody running a lawn mower close to his classroom while he was teaching, but I did observe something similar. Once one of the steam radiators in the Graduate Building hall near our class was not functioning correctly, and physical plant workers came to work on it. They were making a good deal of noise as they hammered and banged with their wrenches.

Dr. Green walked out into the hallway and screamed “Stop that infernal noise immediately!”

He left the door partly open, and I could see the workers. They picked up each tool one by one and gently put each tool into their tool chests without letting one make a noise as it touched the bottom of the chest or another tool. They then literally tiptoed away.

gerald walton

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 now lives in Memphis. He can be reached at gww@olemiss.edu.

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