Sunday, January 23, 2022

John Cofield's Oxford And Ole Miss: Mr. Garner Hickman

Mr. Garner Hickman, First National Bank President Hickman, called university photographer Jack Cofield at the Ole Miss Public Relations office one afternoon. The rest of the story reaffirmed to the Cofield children that Oxford was the place we belonged. Our hearts will never leave.
Jack Cofield just couldn’t put his father in a nursing home. They were like one person and it would have killed them both. He sold the Colonel’s house and added two bedrooms and a bath onto the Park Drive house for us kids, and Granddad moved in. Family member Mamie Phillips came too; and the next day at lunch, with the smell of frying chicken coming from the kitchen, and the Colonel’s laughter from his new bedroom as he asked and answered his own questions, the wobble in the Cofield’s world was corrected. He would never leave for a nursing home. The years rolled along.
Granddad had left Cordele, Georgia, and all he knew in 1928. Now 50 years later, his mind was leaving him and longing for a last glimpse of his Georgia. The Colonel was going home. And so Garner Hickman came back to the bank from lunch, and proved to us that Mississippi was now these Cofields’ home.
Our lunch was over, Dad headed back to campus, Mom and Mamie went on some errands, and Granddad left for home. He put on his good slacks and shoes, put a nice blazer on over his pajama top, eased out his patio door, got down our hill onto Park Drive, and went walking to take out a travel loan.
The bank ladies told us that a concerned, young, Ole Miss couple had seen Granddad slowly making his way down Bramlett, and they stopped. He thanked them and asked to be taken to the Square. He’d lost a step or two, but he still knew Garner Hickman was in charge of the bank. The young guy walked Granddad into the bank and explained. Mr. Hickman saw Granddad standing there, and the rest is just our Oxford.
President Hickman was happy to ‘approve’ Granddad’s travel expenses and wanted to know more about Georgia. He got up to get the customer a cup of coffee and called Jack. Dad left PR right away.
A couple of times before Dad got there, a secretary came to the office door with a questioning look for the bank president, he waved them off. Jack arrived and as he approached the office door, Garner waved him off too. And, so, he stood there and bit his lip at what he would later describe as Granddad’s loudest laughing since before Grandmother died. Johnny’s greatest games, Bill’s writing triumphs, the Japs’ and Germans’ whipping, were on the verbal list of this play’s acts, with respect for an old man’s dignity happening unscripted, observed off-stage.
At a stopping point, Dad walked in. He put his hand on Granddad’s shoulder and asked if he was ready to go home. Georgia forgotten, he happily awaited his Oxford home. With hurt in his eyes for his fading father, Dad nodded at Garner, with love in his, Garner acknowledged the whole event with a single gentleman’s nod back. No more was ever said about it.
Two years later, J. R. “Colonel” Cofield passed away peacefully in his sleep with Mamie holding one hand and Dad holding the other, in Oxford, Mississippi.

John Cofield is a writer and one of Oxford’s leading folk historians. He is the son of renowned university photographer, Jack Cofield. His grandfather, J.R. “Colonel” Cofield, was William Faulkner’s personal photographer and for decades was the Ole Miss yearbook photographer. Cofield attended Ole Miss as well.
Stay tuned for more information on Cofield’s forthcoming book: Oxford, Mississippi ~ The Cofield Collection — a pictorial history book with John’s writing on the history to go along with the photos.
Contact John at
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