Wednesday, October 20, 2021

Bonnie Brown: Q&A with David Wells

David Wells. Photo provided.

The latest interview in the Ole Miss Retirees features David Wells. 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.

David Wells has been a part of the landscape of Ole Miss Athletics for most of his adult life.  He’s experienced the best and the worst.  David quietly has gone about working to ensure the success of not only Ole Miss Athletics but has made significant contributions in his military career.  There’s lots to know about David Wells here.  

Brown:  Where were you born and raised?  Describe your hometown and what was special about it.  

Wells:  I was born and raised in “The Best Town on Earth” – Madisonville, Ky.  At least that is what was printed on the two large signs under which traffic would travel when approaching the community on US 41 from the north and south.  Honestly, the experiences of my youth gave me no reason to doubt that claim.  Madisonville, whose population was about 17,000 when I lived there, is located in western Kentucky about halfway between the Ohio River and the Tennessee state line.  Its economy was based in large part on coal mining, tobacco, and agriculture.

Brown:  Please talk about your childhood.  

Wells:   My younger brother and I had great childhoods because we were raised by loving parents and as the saying goes “an entire community” of good people.  I walked to the same neighborhood public school for the first eight years before riding my bike when I began high school – never had a car of my own until later in college.  There were lots of kids in my neighborhood, mostly older, and we played all sorts of games in which we made the rules and settled the disagreements.   Many of our “toys” were self-made – slingshots, bows and arrows, and wooden guns that shot strips from the inner tubes of discarded auto tires.   At school, we stood and recited the Pledge of Allegiance, had a devotional, and were subject to corporal punishment if we misbehaved.  The schools were still segregated in elementary grades, but integration had begun by the time I was in high school and even while there were two separate school systems, the athletic teams from both systems competed against each other before there was a complete merger.     

Brown:  Tell us about your parents and siblings.

Wells:  Both of my parents grew up on farms in southern Indiana and were high school sweethearts.   The summer after my dad graduated from high school, he drove his aunt to Los Angles, California.  He found day work at a filling station but preferred playing his sax in a band at night when they could find a gig.   Dad was in LA the night Benny Goodman, who was eventually known as the King of Swing, made his big breakout performance at the Poloma Ballroom in LA.   The excitement of that event inspired my Dad to stay in California to pursue a career as a musician, but first, he had to make a trip back to Indiana to see his sweetheart.  Not surprisingly, Mom prevailed upon him not to return to California.  He stayed in Indiana and they were soon married.  He never saw California again until he drove the family there one summer in a car with no air conditioning and a canvas water bag hanging on the front hood ornament.  We followed Route 66 just as he and so many other opportunity seekers had done during the Depression. 

Still having a passion for music, Dad eventually opened a small music store where he sold records and radios.  Years later he and a partner purchased and managed a radio station.  Mom was one of seven children – the baby.  She was the sweetest person I ever knew.  She loved her family and was a great cook who always had a cookie tin full of treats to offer guests.   My younger brother and I shared a double bed until our family was prosperous enough to purchase twin beds.  A six-year age difference resulted in some differences in friends and lifestyles, but we shared many early childhood activities together.   Interesting how that same age difference dissipated the differences as we grew older. Today he is a trial attorney in Kentucky – a “country lawyer” as he describes himself.  Interestingly, he married a girl from Madisonville whose parents were from Pachuta, MS.  I drove them on their first date.   Her dad actually attended Ole Miss in the early 1930s and was on the football and track teams.  My brother’s oldest son Evans is an Ole Miss graduate and lives with his family here in Oxford.  

Brown:  What’s your earliest memory?

Wells:  The small, five-room house in which we lived with its big yard and all the neighborhood kids.   We had a big apricot tree in our yard – to this day I have never seen a fruit tree that big.  As kids, we climbed all through that tree.  My brother and I would gather apricots and pull our wagon through the neighborhood selling cartons of apricots.  That was my first introduction to free enterprise.  My dad had a three-wheeled motorcycle before we got a car.  That was shortly after the war years and I can still remember my parents talking about what it was like when the government rationed food and gasoline.   One memory of my early childhood was buying popsicles from an older man who pushed an ice cream cart through the neighborhood.  Normally my mom would give me a nickel to purchase a treat, but once she gave me a quarter, but expected change of course.  When I paid for the pop cycle, the man gave me back two dines, one was a Mercury dime with which I was familiar, but the other coin was the same size but had an image of a person I did not recognize.  I asked the old man what he had given me and he was rather indignant after I confessed that I did not know the name or recognize the image – Franklin D. Roosevelt.  Obviously, I handled very little money as a little kid, but that encounter left an impression on me as to how respected that president was among so many who had lived through the hard times during his presidency.    

Brown:  Where did you go to school? 

Wells:   Seminary Street School, the former high school, for six elementary grades, then it was converted to a junior high school, so two more years at the same school.  After eight years at the same building, I got to venture outside my neighborhood when I attended Madisonville High School, a WPA project built in about 1936.  Upon graduation, I ventured south to attend Ole Miss in a state that I remember my dad saying, “there really isn’t much there.”   How wrong he was.  

Brown:  What subjects were hardest for you in school?

Wells:  Everything except recess.  I can remember sprinting from the classroom in elementary school and bounding down the old interior steel fire escape and out the emergency exit to the playground.  I had some stern but good elementary teachers.  I still remember the maps hung on the walls, examples of curser letters mounted over the slate blackboards, a US flag and the portrait of George Washington hanging near the teacher’s desk, and the constant memorization of multiplication tables.  One teacher, in particular, sparked my interest in history. She had an entire bookcase with mostly biographies.  I really enjoyed the ones about frontiersmen, Daniel Boone, Kit Carson, Jim Bridger, the Alamo, etc.   Not only did these adventure themes spark my interest in history, more importantly, they made reading enjoyable

Brown:  How did you respond when asked as a child what you wanted to be when you grew up?

Wells:  Well, I’m still thinking about that.   When is one a “grown-up?”   I suppose the first profession in which I had an interest was that of a game warden or conservation officer.  I really enjoyed the out of doors and still cringe when a tree is needlessly cut, or good topsoil and wildlife habitat lost to the blade of a bulldozer making room for another parking lot. While not opposed to progress, I’m suspicious of “development,” – it’s in the eye of the beholder. 

Brown:  What were you really into when you were a kid?  Did you play a lot of sports?

Wells:   Participating in sports was an important part of my life.   Initially, it was neighborhood “pick-up” games on vacant lots with no adult supervision.  That environment was where a kid could really learn some of life’s lessons, especially when most of the neighbor kids were older and bigger than you, such as coping with disappointment over being picked last for a team, negotiating skills when arguing over outcomes, when to stand your ground and when to be patient, cultivating allies, etc.    

When a little older, I enjoyed organized sports in school.   I was fortunate to have had a number of good coaches who certainly wanted us to enjoy winning, but who taught, mostly through example, that there were other important lessons to be learned.  Some of those mentors were veterans who understood the value of preparation, teamwork, and personal sacrifice.   Never do I remember one of them talking about their war experiences, but when I was older, I was humbled to learn what many had endured and accomplished. 

Brown:  What was your very first job, perhaps as a teen?  What were your responsibilities and what was your pay?

Wells:  Although I had several part-time jobs previously – substitute paper route, painting, bailing hay, etc., but the first one I really remember was the summer before my junior year of high school.  I had injured my ankle the previous year and wanted to do something which would strengthen it before school began in the fall.   We did not have weight rooms then.  I learned of a small grocery store which operated push ice cream carts.  Yes, I did remember that old man who used to push one in my neighborhood.   I was hired – commission only.  I pushed that cart with its ice cream cargo all over town.  Made two cents on pop cycles, three cents on drum sticks, but my big profit margin was on the malt cups which sold for 20 cents, earning me a five-cent commission!   Surprisingly, the city cemetery was one of my most productive markets.   By mid-morning, the groundskeepers were usually hot and ready for some cold refreshments.  My biggest problem was not barking dogs, but a pesky little kid who wanted to grab pieces of ice from my cooler.  It was “dry ice”, not the H2O version, which could burn.

Brown:  Talk about your high school experience.

Wells:  Not only was my hometown a great place to grow-up, it was a great time to grow up.  My high school graduation class had about 175 students, perhaps 700 total enrollment in our high school.    In retrospect, I had some great teachers and mentors.  I enjoyed the social sciences and writing classes, but my passion was still sports – football, basketball, and track.  Although reputed to be fast in my era, my speed was a mere turtle’s crawl compared to today’s great athletes.  In those days, students were not pressured to choose one sport on which to concentrate- you could play them all.  The coaches were very supportive of each other, willingly sharing athletes and making accommodations when seasons overlapped.    

A community youth center was located directly across the street from the high school and was a popular teen hang-out.  It had a big jukebox, soda counter, lots of tables, and a big dance floor.  However, dancing was not one of the sports in which I excelled.  I was envious of those who could and loved the music of my youth – great music which can still be heard on oldies stations.    

As with teenagers of all generations, getting a driver’s license afforded more independence and mobility.  Of course, Mom and Dad still controlled the car keys.  Thanks to my granddad, I got lots of experience driving his pick-up truck on rural Indiana gravel roads during the summers, long before I could legally operate a vehicle. 

The summer before my senior year, two of my classmates and two others from another school in the county attended our service club’s national convention in Philadelphia.   The adult advisor unselfishly agreed to be responsible for the five of us.  That took dedication and patience.  The six of us rode in one car.  I had never stayed at a big multi-floored hotel before.  It was enlightening to meet youth from all over the country.  Besides Philly, we toured Washington DC and the US Naval Academy in Annapolis, MD.   When we returned, we felt so worldly.  That was where I learned the value of educational opportunities outside the classroom.  

Brown:  What was college life like for you?

Wells:  My freshman year in college was where I realized I had been a big fish swimming in a small pond.  Although Ole Miss did not have as large an enrollment as some colleges, it was big to me.  And being from out-of-state, I knew only a few other students whom I had met on a visit.  I can remember my mom and dad letting me out of the car in front of old Miller Hall (athletic dorm) and seeing a few other freshmen athletes, who had arrived earlier, exiting with their heads shaved.  That was a tradition at the time – freshmen males had their heads shaved – and had to pay for it – then promptly covered-up their head with a silly looking “beanie” sold at the bookstore.  There were other traditions, now prohibited, which were even more humbling.  

The year would quickly become even more stressful.  The governor had been contesting the court-ordered integration of the University and on a September Sunday evening, the crisis erupted with riots and violence which required US Marshals and Army troops to quell the violence.  Armed checkpoints were set up on all roads leading to Oxford to stop the influx of outside agitators and curiously seekers.   At our earlier freshman orientation meeting, I remembered two things that Coach Wobble Davidson, who lived in the dorm with his family, told freshmen – never miss a class and if there should ever be trouble, stay in your dorm room.  During that fateful evening, we could hear the noise and see the troops from our second-story window as we listened to accounts on the radio.  We were not permitted to have phones in our room.  Each wing of the dorm shared one payphone.  Trying to make a call under normal circumstances was difficult, but contacting the outside world now was impossible.  I knew my parents would worry.  To my amazement, the father of my roommate’s girlfriend, who was from Batesville, entered our dorm room. I was surprised that he would venture out but had more questions as to how he got on campus.   He had acquired an ambulance, dressed in scrubs, and drove to Oxford.  When confronted by the guards at the roadblock, he explained that he was coming to campus to transport an injured person to the hospital.  When he returned to Batesville, he advised the parents of my roommate and called my parents in Kentucky to report that we were safe.  That was as creative as it was kind. 

When it was time to go to class the next morning.   I gathered my books, put on my beanie, and dutifully marched to my 8:00 AM class.  I could not believe the atmosphere.  I knew there had been reports of violence and destruction, but I could not comprehend what I was witnessing.  First of all, I could hardly breathe due to the persistence of the tear gas which permeated the air and secondly, the damage – barricades across streets, an automobile turned over and burning, and the ground littered with tear gas canisters which had scorched the grass where they had landed.   Finally, I realized that there were few if any other students walking to class.  When I got to my class, there was no one there – no students no teacher.  I was rather naive, but I errored on the side of obedience.

Despite the turmoil and national embarrassment, the Ole Miss football team went undefeated and were SEC and Sugar Bowl Champs, and even claimed part of a national championship.  It was a significant accomplishment at a time the University needed something positive.  

The next three years were not nearly as complicated and I enjoyed a stimulating and rewarding life academically, athletically and socially.  Some great and enduring friendships and memories were created during those years and I even found my future wife.  Dad, there really are some wonderful things in Mississippi!  

Brown:  I know you were a member of the 1963 Southeastern Conference Championship football team and you also played in 3 bowl games. You also were on the track team.  Tell us about these significant athletic accomplishments. 

Wells:  Under NCAA rules at the time, freshmen were not eligible to compete in varsity competition.  Coach Davidson, the head freshman coach, prepared the freshman with a thoroughly disciplined regimentation.   It was one of the most formative years of my life to that point.  Besides football, I ran track my freshman and sophomore years.  In those days football players either participated in a second sport or were required to engage in a mandatory off-season conditioning program.  Most elected to play either baseball or run track because we enjoyed competing and it was much more exciting than merely lifting weights.  I ran track my first two years, but injuries sustained in football spring training prevented me from participating in track my final two years.  I remember my freshman season we drove to Lafayette, LA for an invitational track meet.  We stopped at a gas station in southwest Louisiana and I could hear a radio playing.  I realized this Kentucky boy did not understand the language being spoken – then my Mississippi teammates explained that we were in Cajun country and that was the language I was hearing on the radio.  In football, we won the SEC Championship in ’63 and played in the Sugar Bowl, losing 12 to 7 to Alabama.   New Orleans experienced a record snow the day before the game.   By kick-0ff on New Year’s Day, the weather was beautiful but there were two-foot snowbanks on the sidelines.  Unfortunately, Ole Miss set a dubious Sugar Bowl record – six lost fumbles!   My parents attempted to make the trip to New Orleans, but the weather forced them to turn back and they did not get to see me play.   I was the leading receiver in the game.   My junior year we were picked in pre-season to win the National Championship but suffered some close losses and a tie to Vanderbilt in which I caught the tying TD from Jim Weatherly late in the game.  Ties feel just like losses, especially to the favored team.  Despite the disappointing season, Ole Miss was still invited to play in the Bluebonnet Bowl in Houston.  One of the biggest heart-breaking games I ever played in was my senior year against Alabama at Legion Field in Birmingham.  Leading 16-10 with only a few minutes remaining, Alabama drove 90 yards, with the help of a key penalty (sound familiar?), and scored the winning TD with only a minute or so left on the clock.   First time I ever cried after a game.  However, we finished the season strong, winning the last five SEC games, including wins over two top 10 teams, LSU and Tennessee, and a win over Auburn in the Liberty Bowl, the first year it was played in Memphis after originating in Philadelphia.  For a long time, Ole Miss held a record for the most consecutive bowl games.  The significance of that is underappreciated when considering there were only about 8 bowls in the sixties compared to about 40 bowls now.  

Ole Miss vs. Tennessee in Knoxville, 1964 (Ole Miss: 30 – Tennessee:  0)

Brown:  After graduation, you signed with the Washington Redskins.  Tell us about that experience. 

Wells:  There is not a lot to tell, but I am grateful for the experience.   I signed with the Washington Redskins after my senior season.  One of eight seniors to sign with an NFL or AFL team.   Actually, the Redskins mailed my contract to Robert Khayat, who had played with the Redskins before returning to law school at Ole Miss.  It was a standard NLF contract, but it was configured so that additional clauses could be added.  Robert suggested that we add a clause that would give me an extra bonus if I made the 40-man active roster and a few other performance bonuses.  I was scared to death that such boldness on my part would cause them to withdraw the contract offer.  As it turned out, the only bonus I ended up with was a small signing bonus.  I was cut during the exhibition season and decided to return to graduate school.  Actually, I knew, and the Redskins learned, that I had a military obligation and would be drafted by Uncle Sam if I did not accept my commission in the Army by January.  I signed knowing that it would be a one-year shot and I enjoyed the opportunity to experience NFL life even be it briefly.

Front row:  James Harvey, John Maddox, Stan Hindman, & Tommy Lucas
Back row:  David Wells, Bill Clay, Jimmy Heidel, and Mike Dennis

Brown:  Talk about your military service in the Army.  

Wells:   I committed to service in the Army while in college.   Like so many students during the Cold War and Vietnam era, I signed a contract with Army ROTC in my junior year which at that time obligated me to a combination of 6 years of active and reserve duty.  I completed my active duty which included a two-year tour in Germany, but upon discharge from active duty, ended up serving another twenty-five years in the Army Reserve and the Mississippi Army National Guard.  On active duty, I was with an MP company; was with an infantry training division in the reserves in Kentucky, and with an armored brigade in the Mississippi Army National Guard (MSARNG).   The last six years of my career were as an instructor with a United States Army Reserve (USAR) School, in which I taught professional development courses.  During this time, I briefly taught some Army National Guard personnel at Camp Shelby after they were activated and preparing for deployment during the Gulf War.  While it was sometimes difficult to work a full-time civilian job and serve in a reserve component, it benefited me professionally and I got to serve with some really great people, many of whom were graduates of other state institutions.   Our school rivalries were insignificant when we put on the same uniform.   As with most military families, it was my family that made most of the sacrifices while I served.  

David at National Training Center, Ft. Irwin, California 

Brown:  Please talk about your career path and your journey to Ole Miss.  

Wells:    My athletic career actually began while I was a graduate student at Ole Miss.   I was offered a graduate assistant football coaching position on the freshman team under Coach Wobble Davidson.  He was a great mentor, and those two years gave me some valuable coaching experience.  The 1966 and 1967 freshman teams were very good.  I remember thinking that one skinny redheaded kid from Drew really showed some potential!    I lived in Miller Hall on the wing with the freshman team my first year.  Coach Davidson assigned me the disciplinary duties – running players in the stadium after practice who had not met conduct or performance standards.  If I did not meet his expectations, I had to run too!     

After fulfilling my active duty military commitment, I accepted a high school teaching and coaching position in my hometown of Madisonville.  I had applied to several federal law enforcement and security agencies before discharge, but those application processes take a long time. So now married with one child and one on the way, I decided to accept a teaching and coaching position.  Each day I taught two sections of American History, two sections of World History, and a senior government class.  Preparing and teaching five classes a day, then coaching and watching film in the afternoons and evenings was demanding.   I was there for two years and it was a good experience.  I appreciate the work it requires to be a good teacher.  We had two very successful seasons and there were some outstanding athletes on those teams.  As a result, I met representatives from several universities who frequented our high school to recruit our student-athletes.  During the middle of the first season a student manager came to me on the field with fear in his eyes – “Coach, there is an FBI agent here who wants to see you!”   I was relieved to learn he wanted to interview me as a part of my application to one of the federal agencies.   If that contact had been made before I had accepted the teaching and coaching position, I probably never would have pursued a career in athletics.  But I just could not leave in the middle of the fall.  That is when I began to focus on athletics and education as a career. 

Two years later I had the opportunity to be a graduate assistant coach at the University of Kentucky.  It offered little compensation and lots of work.  I had a family, but it got my foot in the door of college coaching.  After the first year, I was promoted to the head freshman coach, and then to a varsity assistant the following year.  In 1976 UK claimed a share of the SEC Championship and defeated North Carolina in the Peach Bowl.  That spring I reluctantly left Kentucky to accept an assistant coach’s position at Ole Miss.  The timing was not good, but I wanted to come back to my alma mater.  

In 1977, Ole Miss defeated eventual National Champion Notre Dame in Jackson, but after several close losses which followed, Ole Miss made a change in the coaching staff and there were no golden parachutes for assistants.  Eventually, I returned to graduate school at Ole Miss thanks to the GI bill and the Mississippi Army National Guard.  Shortly after, Ole Miss’s AD Warner Alford offered me an opportunity to return to Ole Miss in an administrative role as the academic support director.   After two NCAA probations, the University decided to create an athletic compliance position and I was “rewarded” by being assigned that job in addition to continuing as the Assoc. AD for Academic Support.  Eventually, I worked entirely in athletic compliance as the Sr. Assoc. AD for Compliance.   After 31 years of full-time employment at Ole Miss, I retired in 2011 but continued to teach an EDHE 105 class and do a little part-time work for the Athletics Department.      

Brown:  Tell us about your Ole Miss “story.”  You held coaching positions and administrative positions.  Who hired you?  How long did you work at Ole Miss?

Wells:   That story is pretty much covered in my response to the previous question.  However, myOle Miss story” actually began before I ever visited the Ole Miss campus with some coincidental happenings.  My first recollection was in 1960 when I found a TV channel which we did not usually receive but could faintly see a football game in its final minutes between LSU and – Ole Miss.  Ole Miss was behind 6-3, but Jake Gibbs led a final drive which ended with a game-tying field goal.   The next year I visited the University of Kentucky and they were playing Ole Miss.  I was impressed with the win by Ole Miss, but I was equally impressed with their uniforms – navy blue jerseys, gray pants with a broad blue and red stripe, and that signature ‘Ole Miss” powder blue helmet.   During the Thanksgiving holiday, I visited Ole Miss for the first time.  There were no classes in session and no game on campus but the team was practicing.   Being a small-town boy, I liked the charm of Oxford and when I met some of the players for breakfast at Miller Hall, they were coming back from hunting.  I thought that was cool.   Then in December I was in Dallas as the guest of SMU and was taken to a hotel which was hosting the two teams playing in the January 1st Cotton Bowl – Texas and, yep, Ole Miss.  As the teams were exiting a banquet room, I ran into some of the Ole Miss players I had met while visiting in Oxford.  That was just too many coincidences for me and I eventually signed with Ole Miss.   That is the genesis of my “Ole Miss story.”  

Brown:  What were some of your responsibilities?

Wells:  The athletic administrative staff was very small in 1981, my first year in administration, so everyone had multiple duties.  As the Director of the Academic and Student-Athlete Support Office,  we provided counseling, tutoring, monitored class attendance and degree progress,  issued textbooks, assisted with class schedules, worked with Admissions, the Registrar, Financial Aid, and even Housing, plus prepared all NCAA and SEC squad lists and eligibility reports.  As the M Club advisor, my staff-maintained membership records and ordered letter awards.   When I became the Compliance Director in 1994, I took on the additional responsibilities of coordinating all athletic compliance activities, which included preparing NCAA and SEC reports, seeking interpretations, creating and monitoring compliance systems, preparing waivers, and developing educational programs for student-athletes, coaches, staff, and alumni.   Serving on several SEC and NCAA committees broadened my perspective and understanding of the issues and governance process.   Fortunately, the two positions were eventually split and I was able to focus solely on compliance.    

Brown:  Working in Athletics has provided lots of drama, emotional highs and lows. Describe your most memorable days at work.  

Wells:  There were many memorable times, mostly good, but some very stressful.  I don’t wish to resurrect the negative or rank the positive.  However, I will say that I went to bed every night wondering what was going on out there.  Institutions do not have control over everybody but are held accountable for every activity that could be considered beneficial to the institution’s athletic interests. 

Brown:  What accomplishments are you most proud of?

Wells:  There are probably not many measurable accomplishments in which I could take credit.  Often our pride is misplaced.   We frequently flatter ourselves, believing we accomplished something noteworthy when the credit should be shared with so many others.  I take great pleasure in the accomplishments of the students I have coached, mentored, and taught who have capitalized on their educational opportunities and left with an appreciative attitude and a determination to “pass it on.”  I am pleased when the accomplishments of our graduates which reflect favorably on Ole Miss.  I am grateful for the contributions of our loyal alumni, teachers, and staff members in helping all students be successful.  In my personal life, I am proud of my wonderful and talented wife who was a great teacher in the public schools and overcame my shortcomings to raise four great children.   And I am pleased with the choices and decisions my children have made.   

Brown:  What are the most useful skills you have?  

Wells:  When I was in high school, my dad insisted that I take bookkeeping and typing.  He claimed that during the Depression, those skills got him a job when there were so few.  I heeded his advice, but I don’t presume to have mastered any particular skill.  I do advocate for the development of good communication skills, oral and composition, and interpersonal skills. And as elementary as it may sound, living within our means and learning the difference between “wants” and “needs.”   If only our government had these skills.     

Brown:  What’s your creative outlet?

Wells:  I’ve never considered myself a very creative person.   I’m a practical person who takes what is given and tries to make something better.  I take pleasure in landscaping and improving property and refinishing and repurposing old wood.   You were expecting something like painting or sculpturing?

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

Wells:  That question causes me to pause.  I frequently hear people say that they would do it all over again if they had another chance.  I understand that to be an expression of contentment and appreciation for what they have and not dwelling upon regrets.  I concur with the premise, but in making an honest self-assessment of my own life, I recognize there were moments when I could have done better – given a greater effort, been more sensitive or compassionate to others.   My conscience will not permit me to forget these shortcomings.  But it’s a moot question because we can never “un-ring the bell” – we can only be better prepared for the next moment in time. 

Brown:  What’s the best part of your day?

Wells:  Reflecting upon my blessings and good memories and seeking direction for the future.  

Brown:  What makes you roll your eyes when you hear/see it?

Wells:   Someone reacting hastily and/or harshly without the willingness to see the issue from the other person’s perspective or the patience to learn all the facts.  

Brown:  To what do you attribute the biggest successes in your life?

Wells:  My wife, Keren.  Best decision I ever made.  

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

Wells:  It would be difficult to identify one or even a few events – it has been a cumulative process.  But who I am is more about people than events.  Certainly, my good parents and my eternal companion – Keren.  The birth of each of my children and the patience they had with me while I learned by trial and error about how to be a dad for them.   The joy of watching my grandchildren grow and learn.  The friendship of good people in my life.

Brown:  How did you and your wife Keren meet?  

Wells:   We met at Ole Miss during my junior and her sophomore year.  We were set up on a blind date by a mutual friend.  Our first date was viewing the Christmas decorations in Oxford.  

Keren and David Wells

Brown:  Tell us about your children/grandchildren.  

 Wells:  There is not enough time or space since I have four children and sixteen grandchildren.  I have a wonderful daughter and three great sons.  All of whom have graduated from college, three from Ole Miss.  My oldest son is married with four children and is an Army JAG officer at Ft. Bragg, NC; my daughter is married with four children,  loves the out-of-doors, and spends lots of time doing compassionate volunteer work in Heber City, Utah; my middle son is married with four children and is a special agent with a federal law enforcement agency in Birmingham; and my youngest son is married with four children and works in the private sector as a management information director,  living in Oxford, but working with clients in multiple states and abroad.  My grandchildren range in age from 23 to 3 years old and they all root for Ole Miss!    

David (back row, left) with his family

Brown:  What do you do to improve your mood when you are in a bad mood?

Wells:  Walk in the out of doors and view the great creation of this Earth, then sit in a quiet location and meditate.  If I cannot get outside, listen to music. 

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

Wells:  After responding to all these questions, I doubt there is anything else left to share.  

Brown:  What are you passionate about?  

Wells:    Joshua challenged his people to “choose this day whom ye will serve” and then provided his own answer “as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.”   Those are my feelings too, but I would add that I love my family, my country – and Ole Miss.  That probably sounds old fashioned to some.   

Brown:  What’s left on your “bucket list?”

Wells:  To visit the seven states I have never been to, but especially Hawaii’s Pearl Harbor, and learn another language well enough to converse with a native speaker.  

Brown:  Do you have hobbies?

Wells:  No serious hobby – I enjoy yard work, but its appeal is less attractive as I get older.  I like to build simple pieces with wood.  I dabble in coin collecting because coins have value, reflect history and art, and for me, I enjoy imagining whose hand or pocket these worn pieces of metal may have passed through. 

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?

Wells:  I’m still working on my legacy.  


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.

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