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Top Stories of 2017: "Ole Miss Business" Revels in Juicy Tales of Outsized Personalities

Book Review: Ole Miss Business: The First 100 Years. Nautilus Publishing. 196 pages. $45.95.
When the University of Mississippi’s School of Commerce opened in 1917, the First World War was raging, John D. Rockefeller was the world’s only billionaire, and Ole Miss enrolled a freshman class of 150. To commemorate its centennial, the University of Mississippi School of Business Administration—which now numbers 3,800 students and 63 faculty members—has issued a square, solid, lavishly illustrated history of the institution’s first hundred years.
“Ole Miss Business: The First 100 Years” tells several interwoven stories: the careers of the eleven deans who have run the school, the various rooms and buildings in which the school has taught its students, the changing shape of its curriculum, and the successes of its alumni. “This book,” the editors warn, “is not your typical history book.” Instead, it combines human-interest tales and an historical epic: “a compelling 100-year narrative that includes great acts of sacrifice alongside tawdry scandals, triumphs against seemingly impossible odds, as well political maneuvering, heartfelt friendships, and knock-down-drag-out fights.”
Most school histories leave out controversies. “Ole Miss Business” does not. It revels in tales of the outsized personalities who shaped the school and can be unexpectedly candid in the stories it tells. That shows uncommon honesty, and it makes the book surprisingly readable.

James Warsaw Bell
Dean James Warsaw Bell, first dean of the Ole Miss business school, sported a gunslinger mustache in 1904, when he was teaching at the Mississippi Industrial Institute and College, but had gone clean-shaven by the time he returned to Ole Miss in 1907. Photo Credit: “Ole Miss Business.”

When the School of Commerce opened, its first dean was fighting the War to End All Wars. James Warsaw Bell would run the school until 1941. He was a gruff veteran of academic struggles, “experiencing five changes in chancellorships and nine changes in governorships.” Bell survived the train wreck at Buckner’s Trestle, helped keep the University in Oxford, endured Governor T.G. Bilbo’s purge of the faculty, and held on doggedly through the bleak years of the Depression. Eventually, looking back, he wrote that “my former students range from ‘hang-man’s noose’ to United States Senate.”
Of the school’s deans, Bell remains the hardest act to follow. His successors, Horace Brightberry Brown and MacDonald Horne, were men of lesser vision, “both instrumental in setting policy for cotton brokers in the United States.” (But Brown, with his pipe collection and gangster-movie double-breasted suits, won accreditation for the school.) Clive Dunham and Ben McNew steered the school through desegregation. Randy Boxx oversaw the school’s move to Holman Hall. Mike Harvey had a short, troubled, contentious tenure: he spoke of walling off the economics department—not just metaphorically, but architecturally. Brian Reithel, the tenth dean, laid foundations on which the current dean, Ken Cyree, intends to build.
Horace Brightberry Brown
Dean Horace Brightberry Brown, here shown in his office in Room 212 of the Lyceum, ran the business school from 1942 to 1949. Photo Credit: “Ole Miss Business.”

The narrative is paced with profiles of alumni. The career of Henry Anderson Butler (Class of 1920), the first graduate, is not traced, but Mary Frances “Bunch” Clark (1930) gets the notice she merits. A Gulf Coast belle whose mother had played bridge with Jefferson Davis’s widow, Miss Clark was the first woman to graduate with a business degree and married her classmate, C.M. “Tad” Smith.
Among alumni profiles, readers will note Frank Manning Kinnard, George Street, Brad Dye, Warner Alford, Jim Barksdale, Dick Molpus, and E. Archie Manning III.  Ernest Watson and Joyce O’Neal Jones, the first two black graduates, share opinions on townspeople who jeered at them, but disagree about Professor “Papa Joe” Cerny. The roster continues, spanning the decades: lawyers, insurance men, FedEx executives, soldiers and winemakers and retailers of camouflage hunting gear.
Holman Hall Ole MIss
Holman Hall, home of the University of Mississippi School of Business Administration since 1998. Photo Credit: University of Mississippi

Something may be learned from the history of Holman Hall. In 1919, while the Business School was getting under way, three Jackson merchants (Will McCarty, Jud Holman and William Holman) opened a cash-and-carry grocery, urging customers to “save a nickel on a quarter.” The store was Jitney Jungle. By 1998, when the Holman family contributed to the building that bears their name, Jitney Jungle had become the first privately-held business in Mississippi to exceed $1 billion in sales. The idea of knowing a market, turning a profit, and returning part of that profit, may be the most instructive case study in the book.
Allen Boyer, Book Editor of HottyToddy.com, grew up on the Ole Miss campus.  His book “Rocky Boyer’s War” has recently been published by the Naval Institute Press.

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