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Reflections 1950’s: A Path From East Central to ‘Southern’ To A Journey at Ole Miss

reflectionsheadernosponsorcroppedEnjoy our first “Reflections” post — the first of many planned vignettes and stories featuring memories of days gone by. This first installment is from Dr. Gerald Walton, UM Provost Emeritus and former Dean of the College of Liberal Arts at Ole Miss. Dr. Walton arrived as a graduate student in 1956 as written below, and he never left. He joined the University teaching staff and retired as Provost in 1999 after nearly 40 years at the University.

If you would like to contribute your own Reflections story, send it, along with photos, to hottytoddynews@gmail.com.

image001-3My higher education began at East Central Community College in Decatur, Mississippi. I then transferred to Mississippi Southern University with plans to major in English and teach at the high school level. But by the end of my junior year, my professors kept telling me I should go to graduate school.







Walton's acceptance letter to the position of Graduate Assistant in English, 1956.
Walton’s acceptance letter to the position of Graduate Assistant in English, 1956.

The department chair and my major professor had taken their master’s degrees at Ole Miss. They convinced me to apply and wrote a strong letter of recommendation (he was Dan Young, who later became Distinguished Professor at Vanderbilt University).

In mid-January 1956, I requested information from the English Department at Ole Miss and wrote on January 19: “I heard from Ole Miss Graduate School today. I guess I’ll apply there and see what happens.”

On encouragement from other professors, I applied to, and was accepted at, some other schools, but on February 8 “I decided, for myself, to forget all the places except Ole Miss.” On March 19, “Dr. Young told me they were going to offer me a place at Ole Miss next year. That made me feel very good.” I sent a housing deposit on August 21.

My first contract is pictured here.

On September 14, 1956, I picked cotton, by hand (I have often wondered whether anybody else picked cotton the day before he or she came to Ole Miss). On September 15, 1956, my parents drove me to Oxford. I had never been to Oxford and did not ever leave–except for a leave of absence one year–until October 15, 2014.

We arrived about 9:30 a.m.; and across the street from the Continuing Education Center at the time, there was gravel in the area, long before chains were put around the Grove. After I attended a new graduate meeting, I checked into Hedleston Hall, where I roomed for two years. At East Central, I had roomed with a cousin and was across the hall from three friends with whom I had gone to school for twelve years. At Southern, I spent most of my time with my high-school sweetheart. But when my parents left me at Hedleston, I felt all alone and started wondering whether I wanted to stay.

It did not help matters that I decided to have lunch in Johnson Commons. But I couldn’t figure out where the damn door was. All of the windows looked like doors, and of course, students inside laughed at me as I tried to enter through what turned out to be windows instead of doors. I left and went across the street and had a hamburger in the Grill as my first meal at Ole Miss.

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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