Saturday, July 31, 2021

Voice of Guidance to Thousands of Students, Linda Spargo Retires

Known for her support of Ole Miss students and families, Linda Spargo will retire this year following a 25-year career at the University of Mississippi. Photo by Robert Jordan/Ole Miss Digital Imaging Services

One July day in 1995, Linda Spargo received a surprising invitation to the Lyceum. She had recently completed her doctorate in English and was co-founder and director of the University of Mississippi’s first-ever Writing Center. 

Impressed by her talents, then-Chancellor Robert Khayat wanted to know if she’d help him out with a few small writing tasks.

Spargo could not foresee that the exchange would blossom into a 25-year career in the Lyceum, first serving as Khayat’s speechwriter and later as special projects coordinator for the Office of the Chancellor. During that time, Spargo has played an instrumental role as an ambassador and adviser, engaging with students, parents, faculty and staff, developing projects and forging connections with constituents. 

“Linda has been a profound presence at this university and in the chancellor’s office for many years,” Chancellor Glenn Boyce said. “Her caring nature and love for Ole Miss both run incredibly deep and are evident in everything she does. 

“Her immense impact here will long be felt, especially through the numerous students and families she has supported, guided and encouraged over the years.”

While her role has many facets, working with students and families has been a daily endeavor. In a typical year, Spargo meets with 200-300 families from both inside and beyond Mississippi’s borders. 

Her goal is to shine a light on the university’s strengths, beauty, intimacy and safety, as well as the excellence of its academic programs. 

“Linda played a key role in developing relationships with prospective students and their parents and relatives, and an extended range of friends and associates, and became a popular person on our campus,” Chancellor Emeritus Khayat said. “She leads with her heart. She loves people and loves service. That’s a big part of the university. It’s a perfect fit for her.”

Once a student is enrolled, Spargo feels a responsibility to provide guidance while he or she navigates academic life. The experience fosters close relationships. Even a chance meeting with a family from Minnesota, who were lost on a sidewalk on their way to orientation, once led to a four-year relationship with a student. 

“Every day, I get to come to the Lyceum, and I know that on that day I’m going to make a difference in at least one person’s life,” Spargo said. “I’m a representative of the University of Mississippi and the chancellor. It’s not me, it’s the university. 

“I am so proud of what we have become and where we are going.”

Besides her role in the Lyceum, Spargo has taught one section of business communications each semester for 20 years. Working in the classroom setting has allowed her to participate fully in the university’s academic mission. 

That, coupled with raising her daughter, Hattie Alton Steiner (’03), helped her develop a guiding philosophy for working with students and their families, which she may pursue as the subject of a book during retirement. Her wisdom in that regard has earned the respect of countless Ole Miss parents.

“Linda is an institution,” said Matt Lusco (’79), immediate past president of the Ole Miss Alumni Association and father of two UM graduates. “It’s hard to think of Ole Miss without her, especially as a parent and someone who loves Ole Miss. 

“She’s part ambassador for the university and also a surrogate mother. She takes an interest in students and inspires confidence in parents who entrust their children to Ole Miss.”

Spargo also has played a role in building the university’s culture of support and caring. She was instrumental in developing the earliest incarnation of the Safe Ride program in 1999, initially known as Rebel Ride. The program offered late-night weekend transportation between the Square and campus, protecting students by reducing alcohol-related accidents in a pre-Uber, pre-taxi era. 

The program started out small, with two rickety trolley buses, but at its highest ridership in the 2000s, it carried 50,000 students in the fall semester. Safe Ride operates as a free program in conjunction with the Oxford University Transit system. 

As director of Paris-Yates Chapel, another of her long-held responsibilities, Spargo has sought to keep the chapel closely intertwined with student life. She has been committed to making it a student-centric setting for campus ministries, cultural events and other activities. 

In her student advising roles, Spargo often helps freshmen determine a major. Her process includes telling them she’ll be testing them to see whether they are truly invested in their field of study. 

“I love to help people to figure out what to major in,” she said. “I ask them to come back and see me when they’re a sophomore, and say I’m going to ask two questions they’ve got to be able to answer. 

“The first is what classes they’ll need to take junior year, including their names and what they’ll learn. The second is, ‘Does it make your mouth water? Because that’s what matters the most.'”

Following her own advice, Spargo plans to continue to follow her passions in retirement, expecting to stay involved with her beloved Ole Miss community while also engaging with hobbies that include oil painting, spending time with grandchildren and traveling. She will greatly miss her daily interactions with staff members who share her passion for the university and for providing quality service.

“Dr. Spargo has the unique ability to connect with both students and parents and make them feel welcome at the university, even if it is their first visit to campus,” said Jody Lowe, interim director of admissions. “She is equally supportive of staff, encouraging and supporting them when times were challenging and lauding their success after significant achievements. 

“We will greatly miss her positive energy and passion, and we will do our best to continue her legacy of outstanding service to the university.”

Spargo grew up in Arkadelphia, Arkansas, and attended Ouatchita Baptist University, earning a bachelor’s degree in English with minors in French and biology and a master’s degree in education in English. Before starting the English doctoral program at UM, she lived in Dallas for six years, in New York City for one year and in San Francisco for nine years, where she owned a wine and food shop. 

She decided to pursue her doctorate in English while caring for her young daughter and found herself immediately enchanted by Oxford’s springtime beauty during an April visit. 

“I remember the day I drove into Oxford,” she said. “I had been looking at graduate programs in English. I drove over here in April, and it was fairyland. It felt so much like my hometown. I knew that day I wanted to come here.”

Spargo is being honored through a fund carrying her name that will benefit Rowan Oak, author William Faulkner’s home, owned by the university. A passion of hers, this important literary landmark attracts thousands of visitors annually from around the world.

To make a gift to the Dr. Linda Spargo Art and Rowan Oak Fund, send a check with the fund’s name noted in the memo line to the University of Mississippi Foundation, 406 University Ave., Oxford MS 38655; or give online at https://umfoundation.com/spargo.


By Emily Howorth

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