Friday, March 31, 2023

Top Stories of 2017: Chatting with the First Lady of Ole Miss

Sharon Vitter, the wife of University of Mississippi Chancellor Jeffrey Vitter, has a contagiously warm personality that makes everyone she meets feel important and welcome. Steve Vassallo of took a tour of the Chancellor’s home and talked to Vitter about her life as the “First Lady of Ole Miss.” Mrs. Vitter, how do you enjoy being “the first lady of Ole Miss?”
Sharon Vitter: I love it! It is a wonderful opportunity to meet so many interesting people. I enjoy meeting the passionate Ole Miss alums and Ole Miss friends here at the university and when traveling throughout the country. How difficult has the adjustment been for you, moving here from out of state?
Sharon Vitter: I’ve moved a number of times since graduating from college, including two yearlong sabbaticals in France. What I have learned is that getting settled and making friends in a new place takes time. Things are going well, I’m happy to report. I love being an Ole Miss Rebel! That being said, I graduated from the University of Kansas and moved to California in 1979. When Jeff got the job as provost at KU, it took me back home to Kansas after 31 years. I am grateful that I was able to spend that time with my family in Kansas. My mom passed away in April 2016, so I’m thankful that God’s grace provided me the opportunity to spend the last five years of her life nearby her. The University of Mississippi is unique in many respects. Is it what you anticipated?
Sharon Vitter: It has pleasantly exceeded my expectations! Everyone has been welcoming and supporting of Jeff and me joining the Ole Miss family. Ole Miss makes us feel like we are a part of a large family because so many people are connected through so many other ways to each other and to the university! For those who are familiar with the “six degrees of Kevin Bacon” rule, at Ole Miss, it is usually only one to two degrees of connectivity between people! Amazing! Please tell our readers a little about your youth and where you grew up.
Sharon Vitter: I grew up on a family farm in eastern Kansas, south of Kansas City. I have an older sister and three younger brothers. My youngest brother took over the farm after my father died suddenly in 1989, so it is still a working farm. We raised chickens, pigs and cattle when I was young. I had daily chicken and pig chores. We always had a huge garden, so there were always vegetables to be picked and canned in the summertime. How did you meet Chancellor Vitter?
Sharon Vitter: We met in California. I was working at the Children’s Hospital at Stanford and Jeff was finishing his Ph.D. in computer science at Stanford. We met through a mutual acquaintance. The Chancellor frequently credits you with being the foundation on which he relies. How so?
Sharon Vitter: We’re a team. What do you like most about Oxford?
Sharon Vitter: I like the small town feel, but love the great restaurants and shopping! I like the fact that people of all age groups love returning to Oxford for all that the town and university have to offer. What are your personal goals for the new year?
Sharon Vitter: Jeff gave me an ancestry family tree program for my Mac, so I want to get all of my accumulated family history entered. So far, we have 14,000 names in our online family tree database. Exercise more, eat a healthy diet and read more. The amount of new construction on the campus is unprecedented. When can the students and alums anticipate a “leveling off” timeline?
img_2460Sharon Vitter: I’m not sure of the answer to this! I think new construction on campus indicates to me that people understand the importance of education.
Educating students has changed, so with that change in pedagogy, new classrooms with different space configuration and technology are needed. One area of the university that needs to grow is the number of graduate students. With more graduate students, you need more space to conduct research. My understanding is that collections of artifacts have been donated to the university. These collections need to have space to be displayed for research and study projects. They are too valuable to be left in boxes to deteriorate. When you need a break from the world of academia and its environment, what subjects interest you most to get engaged?
Sharon Vitter: I like to catch up with my kids, family and friends. I also read a lot. If you could project Ole Miss five years into the future, is there anything you would like to see present that no one is considering or discussing at this time?
Sharon Vitter: People at Ole Miss are active and imaginative. There’s not much that isn’t already being considered! Tell us about your children.
Sharon Vitter: We have three children. Two girls and a boy. They all graduated from Jeff’s alma mater, Notre Dame. Jillian and Audrey were chemical engineers, and Scott was a mechanical engineer. They’re all great kids, and they’re all off of the payroll! Jillian is an anesthesiologist. She is doing a regional pain management fellowship this year at Ochsner in New Orleans. She is a very good doctor! Scott is a third-year mechanical engineering Ph.D. student at the University of Texas-Austin. He served in the army for four years and was an Army ranger. He spent 13 months in Afghanistan. This has influenced his area of study.
Audrey is on the GE Corporate Audit Staff. She is a “supply” chain auditor, which means she audits processes to make them more efficient. She travels all over the country and the world! She works with people from all over the world, which is a great experience! It’s hard to distant oneself from athletics while living in Oxford. Do you have a favorite sport that you prefer attending or do you enjoy them all equally?
Sharon Vitter: I enjoy all the different sports! The athletes are amazing. Jeff and I had the opportunity to travel with two other football teams to away games, and we enjoy doing so at Ole Miss, too. It gives you a whole new appreciation of what these young people do. I was exhausted from just going to the game. The players had played, been tackled, exposed to cold weather, studied, done homework, etc… in addition to what I had done. Then they were expected to do it all over again the following week. From all of your personal experiences through the years, what piece of advice could you convey to our current students?
Sharon Vitter: Be kind, you may have no idea what people are dealing with in their personal life. Taking out your wish list, is there any particular place in the world you would like to visit and why?
Sharon Vitter: Saint Petersburg to witness the beautiful architecture and to visit The Hermitage Art Museum. The Galapagos Islands would be another place. The travel and visit would be amazing!

Steve VassalloSteve Vassallo is a 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 or call him at 985-852-7745.
Follow on InstagramTwitter and Snapchat @hottytoddynews. Like its Facebook page: If You Love Oxford and Ole Miss…