Tuesday, October 27, 2020

Bonnie Brown: Q&A with Ole Miss Retiree Dr. Donald Cole


*Editor’s Note: The latest interview in the Ole Miss Retirees features is Dr. Donald Cole. 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.

You will never see Dr. Cole without a smile on his face.  He is a very accomplished photographer and makes you feel like a celebrity when he is out and about with his camera.  He is kind, thoughtful, and smart.  Dr. Cole also has a great sense of humor.  He has had a very successful career, always working for the betterment of the University.   

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

Cole:  I am from the capital city of Jackson.  Because that is my birthplace as well as where I grew up, I will always have an affinity for Jackson.  Growing up as the 6th of 8 children, Jackson is special because of family and friends.  It’s the place where we all meet, reminisce, and reconnect; a place where I learned my values, first fell in love, acquired forever friendships, and the place that validated me and launched me into the larger world.  As I return for reunions and to visit family and friends, I still get a warm fuzzy feeling with great memories.

Brown:  Tell us about your parents and siblings.     

Cole:  It’s not normal to have a “normal” family and with 7 siblings, a household that attracted the entire neighborhood, and a mother that was the community’s “paralegal,” we made poverty seem like it didn’t exist. Daddy Ben (my step granddad) was the smartest man on earth who could not read or write or drive. He knew everything in the newspaper and every politician in the state. The entrepreneurial side of my father emerged after his first of two disabling strokes when I was in elementary school. Every legal document that Aunt Laurel, Ms. Piggy, Mr. Hozzy, and dozens of other neighbors received was brought to my 11th grade-educated mother for interpretation and appropriate reply.  She even handled the secret “love letters” of neighbors who could not read!  Today, we still marvel and debate where 10 individuals slept in a 2 ½ bedroom house.  Needless to say, I grew up in a “close” family where there was lots of love and respect. My mother was the matriarch and she instilled both moral and religious values in all of her children. For years I felt as if I was being held afloat by her prayers until I discovered my own. All the children are extremely close, and we come to one another’s aid in times of crisis.

Dr. Cole with mother and siblings

Brown:  What is the most important thing your parents taught you?  

Cole:  My mother was the spiritual head of the household and insisted that everybody (except my daddy) be in church on Sundays. So spiritual values were taught early. Honest hard work, hustle, and strategic planning were my father’s traits that he passed on to me.  They allowed me to dream and believe that those dreams could come to fruition if I were to apply myself. They taught me family values, to sacrifice, to be honest, to have faith and above all to work diligently.

Brown:  What is your earliest memory?

Cole:  I always remember being protected and taken care of and not having to worry about adult-type problems as a child. I remember a loving family structure with lots of people and lots of fun.  I was fortunate to have older siblings to model after and help provide for me as well as younger siblings who looked up to me. I remember an “extended family” consisting of not only relatives but community members. I remember a “respected” family that had the wherewithal to provide everything I needed, even at a sacrifice.

Brown:  Please talk about your childhood.  

Cole:  I had a happy, carefree childhood. One in which I was going to grow up, become president of the world, and save the universe! There were no boundaries. Carolyn Sue broke my 3rd-grade heart and Shirley Willis repeated it in the 4th grade. My older brothers made me popular and I lived off of their reputations for as long as I could. I begin to excel at academics and that brought me a few weird friends; however, a good attitude and willingness to help others soon boosted my popularity to a comfortable level. I had lots of good, true friends and even the handsome guys were surprised at my admiration by others! I somehow had the unique abilities to get along with most reasonable people and I took advantage of that talent.

Brown:  Did you play sports?  

Cole:  There was “nary a day” that I didn’t catch the last second winning touchdown, make the winning basket, or hit the winning 9th inning homerun in my dreams but it never happened in real life. I loved sports and played the big three in the neighborhood but could never make the varsity team in any sport except dreaming! Basketball was my favorite. I remember crying because I couldn’t gain enough weight to play football. With a want-to-be-great desire, I distinguished myself as “average” in sports but great in the love for the games.

Brown:  What was your favorite part about being a kid?

Cole: “Waiting for the next day” was my favorite part about being a kid. That was the day that Carolyn Sue was going to finally fall in love with me, the day that I was going to be discovered as the greatest – whatever, the day I would see my friends again, the day that I would prove myself , the day I would go from pauper  to a prince! Everything was possible, the sky was the limit and I was so carefree!

Brown:  Where did you go to school? 

Cole:  My school was named Sam M. Brinkley High School (7th – 12th grades) and it was a segregated school. Integration took place my junior year, and when asked to attend the “white” school” I replied: “Who would leave all of their friends just to attend a white school?” That proved to be a good decision, as a year later I was elected “Mr. Brinkley” – the most prestigious office the school could offer. My only regret is that now it’s a middle school as opposed to a high school.

Brown:  What was your favorite subject in school?  Least favorite?

Cole:  Without a doubt my favorite subject in high school was math! It was so non-controversial of a subject. One was either right or wrong—no debate about it! I had good young teachers just out of college, and I was challenged. Plus, the subject area gave you a certain amount of “status”—something all the non-handsome guys desired!

I didn’t have a least favorite subject – perhaps a least favorite teacher??

Brown:  What was your favorite TV program as a child?

Cole:  I was, and remain, a “Western Man”! From Roy Rogers to Bat Masterson, from The Lone Ranger to Gunsmoke—if it was a western, I loved it and it loved me! Perhaps that is why I yet watch westerns on Saturday mornings. The fact that they are re-runs that I’ve seen countless times is of no concern. Maybe it’s the simplicity that attracted me: clear delineation between the “good guy” and the “bad guy”; how the “right guy” always wins, and the morally right always comes out ahead.

Brown:  What’s the first career you dreamed of having as a kid?

Cole:  A Preacher or a Teacher was the occupational choices m0deled before me during my upbringing. I had heard the term “doctor” and “lawyer”, but I didn’t know one. Later on, I heard the term “engineer” and adopted it because it sounded good. Most of all I wanted a career that would provide respect and sufficient, adequate finances. I recall placing the term “Businessman” in the senior yearbook but never pursued that option.

Brown:  Did you have a mentor who influenced your career choice?  How did you choose your career?  

Cole:  I had plenty of Preacher-Teacher mentors but no mentor for engineering. Nonetheless, engineering led me to a career in math—my first love. Many relatives were preachers and countless times my mother would hear “Ethel Lee, that boy is going to be a preacher one day.”  The teachers were in church, in the neighborhood, and of course in the schools, and they were deemed “smart and financially stable.” College changed my perspectives and allowed me to observer a broader spectrum of careers. I was technically minded and chose mechanical engineering, which eventually led to a mathematical career.

Brown:  What was your very first job?  What was the pay and what were your responsibilities?

Cole:  I consider my first job to be an “Operational Analyst” for an Aerospace Company making $30k annually. All other jobs before that were temporary jobs. Responsible for helping determine which future technology would be integrated on the US Fighter Aircraft F-16, this was a “you-finally-made-it job” that I truly enjoyed! While in high school I had a job cleaning up in an auto shop. I learned so much about car repair and the basic operational principles of the internal combustion engine are still with me.

Brown:  How/when did your Ole Miss “story” begin?   Tell us about the interview process–who did you meet with, what position were you hired for, your impression of the Ole Miss campus, etc.  

Cole:  My “Ole Miss Story” began as I entered as a freshman in 19__ (Hint: The year Porter Fortune became Chancellor). It was not long before I found myself deep in the protest movements of the era that resulted in 8 students (including myself) being expelled from the university. My UM story continued when I returned to the university some 7 years later to work on my doctorate degree in mathematics which I completed in 1985 and departed UM (this time voluntarily) to work in the aerospace industry in Fort Worth, Texas, and then in academia in Tallahassee, Florida.  My UM experience “continued to continue” in 1993.

 As an alumnus, it was a delightful experience to be contacted concerning employment at UM. The “I-can’t-say-no-to” recruiting team headed by Glenn Hopkins and consisting of Thomas Wallace, Tyrus McCarty and William Staton made me feel like a rock star. Coupled with the fact that I would be working for the all-star team starring Mike Dingerson and Leland Fox with JoAnn O’Quin and Kathy Sukanek as co-stars, I was set up for success! In later years at the Graduate School, Dean Maurice Eftink took me under his wing, and we became the Dynamic Duo that led graduate education in Mississippi and beyond until Judy Cole joined the team to make us the Dynamic Trio! The Dingerson-Eftink-Cole era were unprecedented times for Research and Graduate Education at UM, and I am blessed to have been mentored by such educational giants! 

The story reaches additional heights when I reflect on the influential (and famous) people that I have met and worked with on the national level who appreciated education and its transformative impact on our society. I must admit that promoting the institution came naturally, and in many settings, my name and presence became synonymous with the University of Mississippi. In 2019 my UM experience took another turn as I retired but that experience will NEVER end!

Provost Office Staff

Brown:  What were some of your responsibilities?

Cole:  Although my title was Assistant Dean of the Graduate School and Associate Professor of Mathematics, I was allowed to work beyond those titles. It was a professional atmosphere allowing individuals to maximize their talents. I wasn’t the grant-writer, but I wrote the grants; I wasn’t the math chair, but I represented the Math Department at conferences and recruited vigorously. I wasn’t a Vice-Chancellor, but the Provosts sent me to represent them and the University. I will be remembered most for my work in diversity and inclusion at the university because of my passion and approach and the institution’s commitment to this area. I cherish the thought that I have worked closely with every Chancellor and Interim (Turner, Walton, Khayat, Jones, Stocks, and Vitter) and their administrative team during my working career (and even with Dr. Boyce in retirement) in diversification efforts at the University. Although my university employment started under Chancellor Turner, it was Chancellor Khayat who I am eternally grateful to for taking a chance and adding me to his leadership team to work in the area of Diversity. He moved me into the Lyceum as his assistant and to work with Provosts Carolyn Staton and Morris Stocks. With each leadership change, I wrote a resignation letter because Chancellors like to have their own people in key positions. I was so pleased that Chancellor Daniel Jones did not accept my letter.  Rather he elevated my prominence in his administration. He has a special place within my heart.  

Chancellor Robert Khayat and Donald Cole
Donald and Marcia Cole with Dan and Lydia Jones

The grants on which I was the Principal Investigator lasted much longer than anyone expected and were more time consuming than most realized. But the excellent help of Demetria Hereford with the Ronald McNair Program, Jackie Vinson, and Stephanie Brown with the IMAGE/LSAMP Program, and Earnest Stephens with the AGEM Program all combined to make life a tad bit more livable for me. This was occurring simultaneously with several other smaller grants and working with Gerard Buskes on his Graduate Assistance in Areas of National Need (GAANN) for which the University won national recognition. Boy, I wonder how I ever found time to represent the University on national boards and continue the main parts of my job duties? I know that there were people like Ed Meek, Kirsten Dellinger, Jeff Jackson and Ethel Minor that kept me afloat while Val and Chuck Ross kept me pointed in the right direction. Working with Chancellor Khayat, Gloria Kellum, Andy Mullins, and the leadership team on “The Great Debate of ‘08” was exciting for me and it was a milestone for the University to host a Presidential Debate.

There were many who thought that the holiday celebration, “Books and Bears,” were among my responsibilities but that was a University effort that brought joy and blessings to so many.

Brown:  Describe your most memorable days at work.  

Cole:  My most memorable day at work? Oh, you want me to recall the day I received word that our first major grant was funded. After all, my neck was on the line for changing the nature of that grant from one that had almost been funded the previous year. Whew, what a relief!  Although that made for a good day, the best part came as we heard that same day that a second grant had been funded! What a memorable day – I was confirmed. Yet this is not my most memorable day. That day is preserved for Thursday 5-30-96, while in the office and a message a little before noon comes in to tell me that my wife had been in a terrible car accident involving an 18-wheeler. She would later recover but never will my memory.

Brown:  What are some of the events in your life that made you who you are?
Cole:  In my 30(+) years of life (give or take a few), I could easily list several events per year that helped to characterize me. For brevity, I’ll simply list two. During the civil rights protest of the late ’60s, I was arrested, jailed and suspended from college for participation in one such protest. This profoundly altered the direction and priorities of my life and set it on a totally different trajectory. It defined the people that I would seek out to meet, those I would come to admire and model, and those whose philosophies I would adopt. The likes of Martin Luther King, James Meredith, Medgar & Myrlie Evers and scores of other Civil Rights legends became my heroes and individuals whose causes I wanted to complete and expand.

Dr. Cole with James Meredith
Dr. Cole with Myrlie Evers

The second incident was my marriage to my wife, Marcia, and the ramifications of that union—another journey-altering experience! I enjoy sharing life with her and the excitement of our journey still amazes me!  While I could also list the “failures”—the girls that rejected me—and even various successes, I’ll pass on additional events.

Brown:  How did you and your wife Marcia meet?   Tell us about your family.  

Cole:  There are at least 3 different versions of my wife and I meeting, dating, and getting married: my version, her version, and our version together. I won’t say which version is unveiled in the following account. I met Marcia as I was a graduate student at The University at Buffalo. She pursued me relentlessly until I finally gave up! After dating for 5 years we married we had three wonderful children: Donald II, Mariah, and William. It was only after marriage that I truly realized what a precious jewel that I have as a wife. She keeps me grounded and allows me to extend my work. I won’t admit that there are literally millions of things that I don’t have to worry about or concern myself with because Marcia takes care of them.  Keep this a secret, lest it “goes to her head.” Our 40 (+) years of marriage has been preserved because, as she says, “We never quit each other on the same day.” When I am queried about marriage I always respond, “It’s a fine institution” and encourage entry with conviction. Those individuals who know me also know Marcia is my backbone. She is an extremely talented individual who stands on her own and we support each other’s purpose in life. I am what I am in life because of Marcia.

Donald and Marcia 

Brown:  We’d love an update on your children.  Where are they now and what are they doing?

Cole: “Children will keep you with an active Prayer Life” is one of my often-cited quotes! At the end of my conversations with my children, I will ask them to give me a number between 1 and 10 that reflects how they are doing in life (1 = terrible and 10 = exceptional). So here we go:

My eldest, Donald II, lives in Nashville and is currently working with a financial company. He’s my “mid-30’s carefree semi-independent” child thought he’d be rich by now as a business major. He’s always on the go and takes up 70% of my children’s prayer life.  He’s the type who will get in heaven “right before the doors close.” He’s single and I’d be appreciative if anybody can help me with that! Donald averages reporting in at about 7. 

Mariah and husband, Chris, lives in Nashville as well. Mariah uses her law training to work in the area of Health Disparities.” She is currently employed at Meharry Medical School and Chris is a Police Officer. Mariah is a writer and has a blog with an impressive following (less her dad) and she is “frighteningly” outgoing. She enjoys helping to raise her stepdaughter, Jordan, and Mariah always reports in at no less than an 8!

William Andrew is my only child that followed me as a math major. After his masters, he had a short but stellar 6-year career as a high school math teacher. He now works with Duke Football for his college coach as Director of Player Personnel (like the team Chaplain). William is the most philosophical of our children.  He’s single (Lord help him!), very optimistic (like his dad), and he consistently reports in around a 9.

Marcia and Donald with son William on Senior Day at Ole Miss

We love our children and want them to experience even more than life has allowed us to experience!

Donald II, Mariah, Dr. Cole, Marcia, and William Andrew

Brown:  What makes you lose track of time?

Cole:  I still like to play around with my academic discipline of mathematics. When I get involved with a problem, it generally involves several days, with time slipping by faster than my knowledge is increasing. However, the joy comes with the “solution” and the realization that it is mastered permanently.   

Brown:  How did you become interested in photography?

Cole:  While reading a scientific article one day that listed a number of equations used in photography (such as the inverse square law), I realized that explained some of the numbers on the lens of a camera. It prompted me to get my first camera to “test the accuracy of these equations.”  That started it because as any photographer knows, there is more “art” to photography than “science!”  And although it was the science that got me into photography, the artistic amazement made me fall in love with it. Existing Light photography is my favorite, but most of my photography is for documentary purposes.

Dr. Cole with his camera

Brown:  I’m certain you have tons of photos.  Any tips on how you store them?

Cole:  I have tons and tons of photos, but I don’t do a good job of organizing them. The leap from film to digital was a tremendous help as I at least have them organized by dates. Storage presents another problem. I have them backed up on an external hard drive (I think as I never know if the contraption is working) and I pay to have them stored in the cloud. I will be able to reminisce for years even when my memory is (completely) gone!

Brown:  Do you enjoy relaxing or do you always need to be doing something?

Cole:  I can only relax when I accomplish something. Whether it is a mowed lawn, or an equation solved, an important conversation completed, or an argument lost—for me relaxation comes after work is performed.

Brown:  How do you “re-charge?”

Cole:  I think recharging comes naturally with one’s disposition. During my working years I never needed a vacation—just a day off every now and then. The recharging comes with switching projects to a task/project or something you enjoy. I was blessed to have a job that I enjoyed and would work for free if I could afford it. Recharging also came in the form of people and working on campus with smart people, wise people, young people, and experienced people who always provided a charged atmosphere in which I was always learning and in rare cases, even teaching!

Brown:  What is the best place you have visited on vacation?

Cole:  A trip to Japan has been my best vacation. With a sister-in-law there, it took room and board out of the equation, making for a much more enjoyable trip. Interacting with a different culture affords such a valuable education. The long flight increased the apprehension and expectation of excitement on the journey’s end. Residing in a land that doesn’t speak English, has different philosophical practices, and in which you are a physical standout all added to the excitement of the trip.

Brown:  What’s your biggest regret?

Cole:  I’ve few regrets as I take all interactions as learning experiences. I suppose that I regret not helping as many people as I could have, regret being silent when I should have been outspoken,  regret any friendships not won; regret times that I was too selfish; regret that it took me too long to . . . 

Brown:  What was the last book you read that you couldn’t put down?

Cole:  I refuse to admit that it was a math book because people already think I’m weird! I like to “study” more than I like to “read,” so I have a tendency to seek out the literature that equates conquering a scientific page opposed to reading a chapter. I love learning and agree wholeheartedly with Socrates: “The unexamined life is not worth living!” So, I am always learning, and most time that’s through reading (studying).

Brown:  What’s your biggest pet peeve?

Cole:  I really hate when people are mean-spirited, hateful, and knowingly inconsiderate—particularly those in a position of power. The statement “I am … and I am privileged to serve as …” reflects the attitude that I most prefer, because whatever position we’re in, it is a privilege as we could easily be in a much lesser position.

Brown:  What would be the title of the movie of your life?

Cole:  It would be easier to title sections of my life opposed to my entire life. I’m sure that the subtitles “Cole—The Man Who Did” and “Cole—The Man Who Didn’t” would fit various aspects of my life. I like to think of my life as simple, open, and predictably exciting but none of this would make a good title—so I would have to fantasize. 

Brown:  What 3 famous people, living or dead, would you want at your fantasy dinner party?

Cole:  

1) Golda Meir, first female Prime Minister of Israel.  I admired her patience and sacrifice to her country. 

2) Martin Luther King, civil rights activist.  I admired his courage, determination, and willingness to be a martyr. I still try to emulate his powerful speaking ability.

3) Barack Obama, 44th President of the United States of America.  I admired his message of unity and hope – “Yes we can!”

Brown:  Do you have a favorite quote or saying?  Why is it your favorite?

Cole:  One spiritual:

“And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.”  –(John 3:32)

One secular:

“What lies behind us and what lies before us are tiny matters compared to what lies within us.” –Ralph Waldo Emerson

I use these quotes (and others) quite often and they never fail to convey a powerful message to the listener.

Brown:  If there was something in your past you were able to go back and do differently, what would that be?  

Cole:  I would marry my wife earlier; I would finish my schooling sooner; I would be more outgoing; I would have become … sooner; I would have not . . . 

I don’t use the term “I made a mistake in life” because that doesn’t feel “divine” to me even when I recognize an alternate way might have been more productive. I generally put lots of thoughts into my major decisions and consequently, that makes them easier to live with. So I never say that any major decision was a “mistake” rather I would say that the outcome didn’t produce the optimal desired results. There are learning experiences to be gained with every route taken in life and those experiences help to optimize future decisions.

Brown:  What do you need help with most often?

Cole:  I need help with keeping a neat tidy office! It was difficult for me to admit that I was a “junky office person” because the connotations are so suggestive of other flaws. If asked about tidiness, I predict that my wife would say that I’m extremely neat—but please don’t ask her! Another area that I need help with is keeping up with birthdays. I enjoy celebrating them with individuals but remembering them is a totally different matter.

Brown:  What determines success? Hard work or luck?

Cole:  Any success that I have had has been divine. 

My philosophy is summed up in the following: “Work diligently to do your part and do all that you can humanly do—then let God do the rest.” In my parting speech at my retirement from the University, I quoted the following phase as the key to any success that I have had:  “Work like you don’t need the money.  Love like you’ve never been hurt. Dance like nobody’s watching.”     

Brown:  What skill would you like to master?

Cole:  I would love to be able to masterfully play musical instruments: piano, guitar, saxophone, flute . . .   To master a musical instrument is to master a part of nature. It’s permanent. It’s universally appreciated. It’s soothing to the soul!  The piano is appealing because of its popularity and complexity, the guitar because of its personality and individuality, the sax/flute because of their calming uniqueness. Note that playing a musical instrument is totally independent of singing as there is absolutely no hope of mastery in that area! I’ll never be a Harry Belafonte or a Frank Sinatra, and I limit my trying to in the shower.

Dr. Cole with Harry Belafonte

Brown:  What’s on your to-do list that’s important, but not urgent?

Cole:  Get organized! At home, I’d liked to have a universal feel that I can be as productive as I was at work. At home I am unable to call on University resources so I will have to compensate.   Organization is one of the major tools that will be helpful towards this end.  Many of my other “bucket list” items will remain in the bucket and I leave them to others: driving from coast to coast; visiting every state in the union; visiting all of the national parks, sky diving, … Meanwhile I plan on a trip here & there, local engagements, having acquaintances over, doing enough to keep Marcia happy and giving the illusion that I’m living the “The Life of Riley!”

Brown:  What was your best birthday?

Cole:  Too many to remember. I’m not really a birthday guy, but I appreciate those who are. I only forgot my wife’s birthday one time and one time only! I like participating in birthday celebrations, but not organizing them. I enjoy wishing individuals a happy birthday but not arranging a celebration. Nonetheless, I’m appreciative that my wife doesn’t allow our children’s birthdays to pass without celebratory notification of some sort. Perhaps my best birthday is the next one!

Brown:  What small things make you happy?

Cole:  Success at the end of the day—be it a lawn project, a letter written to satisfaction, a photo taken capturing the right image, fixing something broken with limited expense, or the sharing of a moment of humanity with another.  

Having an accomplishment—be that it is a point established or one realized, recognition of somebody’s good work—or being recognized; lending a hand or receiving one; to “make somebody’s day.”

To experience nature—to observe the flight of a hummingbird, feel its buzz; to see a flower bloom that I planted; to see a “shooting star,” or a body of water or a mountain. 

Brown:  What has become your new routine since you retired?  Do you have hobbies?

Cole:  Trying to focus on those things that I want to do and not those things others want me to do!

To my list of hobbies, I add yard work.  This is an unwinnable task as one is fighting against nature. The temporary victory in a day’s work is gratifying but always short-lived. I’d like to add fishing, but I need someone with a private lake (Hint Hint to a reader).

Brown:  What advice would you give to your 20-year-old self?

Cole:  Working very hard for the next 10 years will help assure that you don’t have to work as hard your last 10 years! Remember that there are deeds that can’t be undone, words that can’t be withdrawn and actions that can’t be negated. So do your best to regret as little as possible! People forgot a ton of good but remember the ounce of evil.  

Brown:  What are some small things that make your day better?
Cole:  Running into a friend, receiving an unexpected favorable call, doing someone a favor, helping someone with a problem, having someone appreciate something I’ve done. Ending the day with accomplishments. Hearing from a long-lost acquaintance, previous student, or former colleague. Even reflecting back on the wonderful people that the University has enabled me to meet.  Actors like Morgan Freeman that I discovered to be such a delightful individual whose success is tempered with a desire to improve humanity—no different from my own desire. Archie and Olivia Manning, great UM legends who love this institution beyond measure—just as does Donald and Marcia Cole. Thousands of students who in time will be major contributors to the institution and many will partially credit Marcia and me for enlightening their UM experience.

Donald and Marcia Cole with Morgan Freeman

Dr. Cole with Olivia and Archie Manning

Brown:  What separates true friends from acquaintance?  

Cole:  Acquaintances tolerate you as you are.  True friends know your vulnerabilities, appreciate you in spite of them, help you overcome them, and keep your best interest at heart, and without calling, they are there when you need them. Friends are forever even if you’re separated by miles and don’t talk every day—you just pick up where you left off. Friends like Lawrence from elementary school, Felton & Harvey from high school, and Hawk from college add to the stabilizing of my life as much as my Pastor. Friends make life worth living!

Brown:  How do you manage stress?

Cole:  When younger, I would play basketball; now I keep a smile and do lots of praying and resort to some of my current hobbies. I also try not to isolate myself or indulge in vices that could prove more harmful than the stress itself.  Sharing my load with others even without mentioning the particulars, can also be very helpful.

Brown:  What are you passionate about?  

Cole:  Fighting for human/social justice especially for those who are marginalized.

Advocating for educational opportunities for all—especially graduate education for minority students. Rendering service to others whether in a small or significant way, whether in a religious or secular setting, whether in an official or unofficial capacity. I’ve had so many role models in this area. From Vice-Chancellor Gloria Kellum at the local level to Representative John Lewis at the national level were individuals whose actions validated my philosophy. I attempt to imitate Rep. Lewis’s passion, bravery, and commitment even though I could never measure fully to his stature. Nonetheless, my passion runs as deep as his about these important issues. 

Dr. Cole with Civil Rights Leader and Congressman John Lewis

Brown:  Tell us something about yourself that not many people may know.  

Cole:  I am such an “open” person until most either know me or can easily read me. So, it’s the small irreverent things that they don’t know like my fear of public speaking, dislike for beets, I prefer studying as opposed to reading.  I like magic shows and in addition to neck ties, I collect cups. 

Brown:  What is one important life lesson everyone should learn?

Cole:  The comprehensive power of Love: Its ability to rejuvenate itself between individuals; its capability to allow you to separate an individual from their ideology; to recognize the good and humanity in others amongst their evil aspects. Its enduring power over hate.

Brown:  What’s your greatest accomplishment to date?

Cole:  To be known for standing firmly for something whose cause is greater than oneself: to stand whether it is amidst the glowing cheering of the favorable crowd or a threat by those who would destroy you or your character. The thousands of people that now view The University of Mississippi as a 21st-century institution opposed to a 1960’s institution in regards to race relations; the hundreds of students who hold terminal degrees resulting from programs I helped supervise; the countless students that I have mentored into productive citizens; the service I have rendered to the University and the status that it has afforded me. A 40 (+) year marriage, 3 prosperous children, good health and $10 in the bank! The successful navigation of a complex 50 (+) year relationship between myself and the University culminating in my dedicated service and acknowledged at my retirement reception that was a historic event in its own right. I will never forget the massive turnout and well wishes, or the inspiring speech by Provost Noel Wilkins. Also confirming the success of that complex relationship are two other events: my selection to the UM Alumni Hall of Fame, a distinguishing honor that humbles me beyond belief, and the consideration by Larry and Susan Martindale to be architecturally honored along with them in the university’s physical presence! So I guess my great accomplishments are my firm time-honored stance on unpopular issues that time and circumstances popularized and proved my stand the correct one.

Larry and Susan Martindale with Marcia and Donald

Brown:  To quote Katherine Meadowcroft, Cultural activist, and writer, “What one leaves behind is the quality of one’s life, the summation of the choices and actions one makes in this life, our spiritual and moral values.”  What is your legacy?

Cole:  Well, I’ve made no direct attempt to leave a given legacy. Rather I’ve lived by a few simple rules: To smile rather than frown; to be more trustful than skeptical in believing that there is more good in people than bad; to listen as much as I talk; to maintain an affinity for those marginalized by society; to forgive; to be patient; to believe in God, family and myself.

I suspect that those who know me well will remember at least one of those characterizing thoughts about me, and those that read about me will associate one of those characteristics. 


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. For questions or comments, email her at bbrown@olemiss.edu.Sign up to receive Hottytoddy.com morning and evening headline emails HERE!