Saturday, September 26, 2020

Bonnie Brown: Q&A with Professor Emeritus of Special Education, Larry Tyler

*Editor’s Note: The latest installment in the Ole Miss Retirees features is Dr. Larry Tyler. The organization’s mission is to enable all of the university’s faculty and staff retirees to maintain and promote a close association with the university. It is the goal of the Ole Miss Faculty/Staff Retirees Association to maintain communication by providing opportunities to attend and participate in events and presentations.

Dr. Larry Tyler has lots of fans, from the many students he taught and mentored, to colleagues, as well as the throngs of folks he has entertained with his music. If you’ve ever been at an event with beautiful music and singing in the background, chances are it was Larry Tyler. He has a great Ole Miss story to share.

Dr. Tyler. Photo provided.

Brown: Where did you grow up? What is special about the place you grew up?

Tyler: In Conway, Arkansas—the exact central part of the state. It’s a college town (three in fact), with various state agencies and industry present. It’s about 30 miles from the capitol, Little Rock. Upon graduation from high school in 1960, the population was around 10-12,000. It is now over 70,000! Wonder what percentage of growth that might be?

Brown: Please talk about your childhood, your parents, siblings and any crazy aunts and uncles.

Tyler: A typical childhood of the 1940s and ’50s. I lived about three blocks from downtown. My dad was a self-taught bookkeeper and mom was a homemaker. I have one sister who is 11 years younger. I have many aunts and uncles, a number being half brothers and sisters. A very cohesive family, mostly God-fearing church-goers. No one served any jail time to my knowledge!

Brown: Where did you go to school?

Tyler: I graduated from Conway High School in 1960. I attended what is now The University of Central Arkansas, but named State College of Arkansas when I attended. I later completed graduate work at the University of Kansas prior to coming to Ole Miss.

Brown: What were you really into when you were a kid?

Tyler: Probably sports and music mostly. I was on the first little league baseball team when the league was initially formed. I was reasonably good at basketball, playing all the way through high school. But, music captured my imagination by playing piano, guitar, and bass. I began playing with a series of bands right out of high school. Much of my college expenses were paid for via music.

Brown: Tell us how/when your Ole Miss “story” began? Who hired you? How long did you work at Ole Miss?

Tyler: I must thank James (Jim) Mann for giving me the opportunity to work at Ole Miss. I was familiar with the university, but had never been to the campus, nor to Oxford. It was a last minute decision over a school in Texas. I retired after 35 years of service. I can’t imagine a better experience than those years in the School of Education.

Brown: Please talk about your job interview for the Ole Miss position. Who did you meet with? What impressed you about the university?

Tyler: During my interview, I met with Dr. Sylvester Moorhead, Dean of the School of Education, along with Dr. Alton Bryant, Vice Chancellor at that time. The initial invitation to interview came from Dr. Jim Mann, Chair of the Department of Special Education. Another key individual, who helped sway me toward Ole Miss was Dr. Jerry Robbins, Chair of School Administration. His dad had been my high school principal in Arkansas. What impressed me most was the collegiality of the faculty, Dr. Mann’s grant writing success, along with the beauty of the campus, and the small-town laid-back atmosphere of Oxford.

Brown: What did you know about Ole Miss before you accepted a position here?

Tyler: I was aware of the integration crisis, having lived in neighboring Arkansas and watching the newscasts. I had known several individuals who had attended here, but had no up close and personal knowledge about the campus. Several of my professors at Kansas cautioned me about coming to Mississippi. However, I’m glad I didn’t take their advice.

Brown: Who influenced you in your early life?

Tyler: I was primarily influenced by my family members, who were hard-working and civic minded. I recall particular teachers along the way, who inspired me to pursue an academic career. Mrs. Ben Vann, my elementary music teacher, who was unforgettable, had a tremendous influence on me.

Brown: How and when did you decide about your career choice?

Tyler: As an undergraduate, I majored in speech therapy, planning on a career in public schools. However, an opportunity opened for work in the state’s institution for the mentally handicapped, The Arkansas Children’s Colony, that led to a greater interest in special education. Those years were very enjoyable and crucial in decision-making about future plans.

Brown: What were your “best” and “worst” days at work and why?

Tyler: Some of the most challenging days were dealing hands-on with children and adults with severe disabilities, such as seizure disorders and related physical issues. Many folks in the general population have never seen, nor been around children with severe disabilities. The best days were witnessing success stories among the clients. I quickly learned that persons with mental retardation have unique personalities and can acquire skills within certain limits. And, the professionals working with this group were special indeed. Each day I was around medical personnel, social workers, psychologists, educators, recreation folks, rehabilitation specialists, and others who made each day special.

Brown: What’s the hardest you’ve ever worked?

Tyler: Aside from college years, working summers in a school bus factory, I would say grant writing and working on accreditation issues for the School of Education. Those concerns, while necessary and important, took inordinate amounts of time and, to some degree, distracted one’s attention from classroom matters.

Brown: What are some of the events in your life that made you who you are?

Tyler: As a high school student, I ran with success for various school offices. Attending Boys State was a thrill. I never sought the limelight, but rather enjoyed playing a secondary role behind others. As mentioned previously, sports early on played a major role, although no one would suspect that now! And, key individuals, such as teachers, molded my behavior somewhat in that I aspired to be like them. Wouldn’t it be great to be able to speak to them today and credit them personally as an influence?

Brown: I know you have a very busy second career in music. Please tell us about how that came about.

Tyler: I was singing solos in church at an early age. During the elementary years, I completed several years of piano instruction. Music in general, along with close vocal harmony, has always been an attraction for me. In college, I ran with a group of guys starting a band. Before long, we were playing everywhere, bringing in pocket money I’d never experienced before. I loved that aspect, but enjoyed making the music more. While on the faculty at Ole Miss, I continued playing with several of the faculty members in the Music Department. Everyone is now retired. However, the music continues, as I often play solo around Oxford for private parties and the several retirement centers in the community.

Moonstone and Friends

Brown: Who was your favorite band/artist growing up?

Tyler: In the late ’40s and throughout the ’50s, I was a radio addict. Listening to music was a favorite pastime. My exposure included the Grand Ole Opry on Saturday nights, gospel groups on Sunday morning and a sprinkling of the big bands and pop music of the day. I never missed the weekly “Hit Parade” in the early days of television. Among the early groups of rock and roll, my favorite bands centered around the instrumental groups, such as The Ventures, The Champs, The Fireballs, Booker T, Ace Cannon, and many others.

Brown: Do you go to concerts? What’s the last concert you attended?

Tyler: I mostly attend events at the Ford Center on campus. Years ago, it was fun to drive to Memphis for concerts. Now, high-quality acts can be enjoyed locally. I think the last concert I attended was the recent 1940’s song and dance show at the Ford Center. Other shows have included Kenny Rogers, Kenny Loggins, and the 175th “birthday party” for the State of Mississippi, featuring Mac McAnally, Marty Stuart, and other performers, along with a full orchestra from Jackson.

Brown: What do you consider your greatest accomplishment?

Tyler: The feedback from students about my classes was special, along with watching them grow through their career choices and successes.

Brown: What makes you roll your eyes every time you hear it?

Tyler: It might be the roller coaster ride Ole Miss has experienced with the myriad of contemporary issues.

Brown: What was cool when you were young but isn’t cool now?

Tyler: The current generation has little clue about what was cool in the ’50s. Clothing and hair styles were important then. That may be true, now, but the styles are obviously different.

Brown: What do you do to get rid of stress?

Tyler: Walking as exercise, as well as playing music.

Brown: What are you looking forward to in the coming months?
Tyler: Hopefully good health and the ability to continue playing music at the various retirement centers around town. I also play with other musicians in retirement centers in Memphis.

Brown: What’s your “back in my day, we…”?

Tyler: We made or created our own toys to play with. Groups of neighborhood boys gathered in yards to play sports—whatever was in season. Bicycle riding was in vogue for getting around town and the pace of life seemed slower and safer than today.

Brown: What’s your idea of the perfect day?

Tyler: First, starting with coffee with the senior group at McDonald’s. Follow this with a stress-free day, where I can set my own agenda, with no deadlines or particular requirements to be met. This day would also include a short nap and a walk in the nearby city park.

Brown: Tell us something about yourself that might surprise people.

Tyler: Probably my particular views on social and political issues that I rarely express to others.

Brown: What did you do on your last vacation?

Tyler: What’s that? Can’t recall a last vacation! Most vacation-like activities are events planned with the grandkids.

Brown: What has been your routine since retirement? Do you have any hobbies?

For several years I was active in visitation of public schools for reaccreditation purposes. However, I desired to spend more time in music and now play often in retirement centers in Oxford and Memphis. I also maintain a multi-track recording setup, whereby I record singers, who desire to make CDs for families and friends.

Brown: What’s left on your bucket list?

Tyler: More of the same. I find that elderly people really enjoy the music that they relate to. I feel that I’m reasonably good at that. As long as good health is present, my bucket list is to provide such as long as I can.

Bonnie Brown is a retired staff member of the University of Mississippi. She most recently served as Mentoring Coordinator for the Ole Miss Women’s Council for Philanthropy.

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