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Bonnie Brown: Q&A with Calvin Sellers, Former University Police Chief

The latest interview in the Ole Miss Retirees features Calvin Sellers, former University Police Chief. 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.

Chief Sellers thought he wanted to be an astronaut when he was a little boy, then perhaps a basketball coach before finding his true calling in law enforcement.  He is well respected and has a great story to share.  

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

Sellers:  I was born in Leflore County in Greenwood, Mississippi, making me a “Delta Rat.”  Both my parents were from Mississippi.  I spent my early years in Maryland, then lived in Greenwood and Oakland.  Oakland was a small town but had everything you needed—bank, grocery store, café, barbershop, etc.  

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

Sellers:  My mother was from Grenada and my father was a Baptist preacher in Carroll County.  He had two sisters who were schoolteachers and lived in Maryland.     Their community needed a pastor for their church so that’s how he ended up in Maryland.  He was there for seven years before returning to the state to attend Mississippi College.  

Calvin with siblings Neal, Pam, and Rose Marie

Calvin with his aunt, Louise Sellers Derrington

Brown:  Where did you go to school? 

Sellers:  I started school in Maryland, then attended school in Clinton.  I also went to Leflore County for a year until we moved to Oakland.   After that, I attended Coffeeville schools.

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

Sellers:  I loved basketball, then in high school I started playing golf.  We played outdoors all the time.  I loved being outside.  We rode bikes, went fishing.  My day was spent outside until dark.  There were no video games and such back then.  

Brown When you were 5 years old and asked what you wanted to be when you grew up, how did you respond?

Sellers:  When I was little, I wanted to be an astronaut.  I was really interested in space.  

Brown:  Who influenced you in your early life?  Did you have a mentor who influenced your career path?

Sellers:   I really looked up to my basketball coach at Coffeeville, Paul Pittman.  He was a good man and instilled in us Christian values.  He would set us down on the basketball court and it was almost like a sermon.  He was a good role model for us kids.    

Brown:  What was your first job?  

Sellers:  My first job was a paper route.  I delivered papers in the morning and later got the afternoon route delivering the Memphis Press-Scimitar in the eighth grade.  I also delivered the Commercial Appeal in high school.  I learned a lot about human nature.  I remember being upset when I got the first bad check from one of my customers.   

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

Sellers:  I interviewed for the job in 1986 with Mike Stewart who was the University Police Chief.  He is one of the finest people I ever worked for and he was definitely a positive influence on me.   He was the best mentor.  I wanted to be like him.  He was so professional and dedicated to his job.  I had started college when I was living in Water Valley and was happy to be able to continue my education by taking advantage of the faculty/staff scholarship offered to employees that allowed you to take 6 credit hours each semester.  I even paid for an additional 3-hour class from time to time.  But I got a little burned out and simply stopped taking classes.  Chief Stewart called me into his office and asked why I had stopped taking classes.  I told him that I had just simply stopped.  He talked with him and convinced me to finish my degree.   I worked at Ole Miss from 1986 until 2000 when I applied for the Mississippi University for Women (MUW) position as Chief and moved to Columbus.  Then in 2008, I came back to Ole Miss as Chief and retired in 2015.  

Brown:   What were some of your responsibilities as Chief?

Sellers:   In addition to overseeing the departmental operations and personnel, additional duties included serving on a lot of committees.  There was a lot of planning that went into the major events, such as football games, rush, and homecoming to name a few.  Much of the planning took place long before the event.  I admired Andy Mullins who chaired the Football Game Day Preparations Committee.  Dr. Mullins did a thorough job of preparing everyone for their role in the game-day experience, including things such as traffic issues, security, etc.  As Chief, I also was involved with the oversight of the marijuana gardens and worked with the DEA about security issues.  UPD was under the Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs.  

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

Sellers:  I had gone to school here for one semester and had a traumatic experience.  Our three-year-old son drowned in a neighbor’s pool.  I was selling insurance and didn’t particularly like what I was doing.  I wanted to be a high school basketball coach, but I couldn’t afford college tuition, so I went to work for Water Valley in law enforcement.  

Brown:  How have your goals changed over your life?

Sellers:  I went from wanting to be a high school basketball coach to being in law enforcement, pretty much by accident.  I had applied for a position to the Water Valley Fire Department.  The Fire Department and the Police Department shared the same building.  When I went in to interview for the fireman’s position, the Police Chief talked me into a position with the Police Department.  This was when I discovered that I really found my calling in law enforcement.  

Calvin with Michael Harmon

Brown:  In your opinion, what’s the greatest challenge in law enforcement today?

Sellers:  Law Enforcement has a difficult time in keeping the public trust.     The police are focused on doing good for their communities.  Keeping the public trust is important and it’s hard to do.  You have to do a lot of community outreach.  It’s so important.  You have to work for so many segments in the community and it has been my experience if you give people respect, you will get it back.  For instance, when working on the college or university campus, you need to talk to the students, the fraternities and all when neither side is mad.  I always felt good when I would see students out on campus, or they would stop by my office, and I knew that this experience had a good outcome.  Hopefully, I had some influence on these young people.  

Brown:  How did you and your wife Mary meet?
Sellers:  We actually met through work.  I was working for the University Police Department (UPD) and Mary was a nurse at the Emergency Room.  Back then, when a student showed up at the hospital or needed to be transported to the hospital, a UPD Officer accompanied the student.  The UPD Officers got to know the hospital staff—doctors, nurses, ambulance drivers, etc.—and I got acquainted with Mary.  The UPD officer sort of stood in for the student’s parents but due to privacy laws, they are no longer advised when a student is admitted or treated. 

Calvin with wife Mary

Brown:  Talk about the best and/or worst day at work.    

Sellers:  Every year, we have some student deaths, whether it’s suicide, overdose—whatever.  Those are the worst days ever.  

I suppose the best days were those when students (or former students) came up to me and told me that I changed their life, that I positively influenced them in some fashion.  That’s a best day!

Brown:  What’s your definition of success?

Sellers:  I think you’re successful when you don’t let negative thoughts or a bad attitude overwhelm you.  I consider myself to be a pretty positive person, so I dwell on the positive rather than the negative.  I think it has helped me in my life, my work, and dealing with the public.  

Brown:  Fill in this blank:  If I could snap my fingers and acquire an experience or talent, it would be . . .  

Sellers:  I would love to be able to play classical guitar.  I have taken lessons, but I just can’t master that.  I love to listen to classical guitar music.  

Brown:  If a genie were to grant you a wish, what would it be?

Sellers:  My wish would be to see our country united.  It is so divided today by politics and it just shouldn’t be that way.  The parties should work together on issues for the good of our country and its people.  

Brown:  What words would your friends use to describe you?  

Sellers:  I think and hope they would say I’m positive and encouraging.  I would like to think close friends would say I’m caring and generous.  

Brown:  What values do you think are critical to communicate to younger men?

Sellers:  Honesty and respect.  You can’t be successful if you don’t possess these two qualities.  One should be honest at all times, regardless.  And you should show respect without being judgmental.  Looks can be deceiving.  

Brown:  Do you have a favorite TV show that you never miss?  

Sellers:  No.  I enjoy watching sports and some talk shows.  I like the History and Discovery channels, but I don’t watch many weekly TV shows.  

Brown:  How do you deal with stress?

Sellers:  Not well at all!  Before I retired, I was having trouble sleeping, little appetite, and generally felt run down.  But since I’ve retired and no longer have those 2 or 3 a.m. calls and concerns, I feel the burden has lifted.  I find that golf is a great stress reliever.  And I also love to read.  I recently read a book by Gerald Inmon, a writer from Oxford, and enjoyed it very much.  In addition, I learned a lot from it.  

Brown:  What advice would you give your 21-year-old self?

Sellers:  Get your education!  I started and quit but I finally finished.  Just find a way to do it.  

Brown:  Describe the perfect vacation.

Sellers:  I prefer the mountains to the beach so I think a drive out west through the Rocky Mountains would be ideal.  I’d like to explore all the states along the way to the Pacific, then drive down the Pacific Highway.  

Mary and I drove out to South Dakota this summer and got to visit Mt. Rushmore, Devil’s Tower, and Crazy Horse Memorial, a mountain monument under construction on privately held land in the Black Hills, in Custer County, South Dakota.  Upon completion, it will depict the Oglala Lakota warrior, Crazy Horse, riding a horse and pointing to his tribal land.  We also visited Deadwood, a city in South Dakota known for its gold rush history.  Mount Moriah Cemetery has the graves of Wild West figures like Wild Bill Hickok and Calamity Jane. 

Brown:  What is a personal “rule” that you never break?

Sellers:  I don’t discuss politics—ever!  I simply walk away rather than engage in that conversation.  

Brown:  What’s your favorite way to waste time?

Sellers:  I am really good at doing nothing!  I like to read.  I browse for books through Goodwill at Southaven.  I trade books, and there’s even a “library” that allows you to check out books over the internet.  I have about 3 or 4 books going at a time.

Brown:  What “old person” things do you do?

Sellers:  Oh, well, I go to the doctor, take medicine.  I’m grateful for good health.   

I graduated from high school with some great friends and I try to stay in touch with them, but don’t visit often enough.  

Brown:  What is the most important life lesson for someone to learn?

Sellers:  Without a doubt, it’s learning how to treat fellow human beings—being respectful, and don’t look down on folks.  

Brown:  What do you need to rant about or get off your chest?

Sellers:  I don’t like dirty politics!  It used to be that politicians would talk about all their good qualities and such but nowadays, it’s all about how bad your opponent is.  

Brown:  Which of your accomplishments are you most proud of?

Sellers:  Definitely getting my degree.   I am most proud of that.   My father had a college education as did his two sisters.  No one from my mother’s side had a degree.  

Brown:  Looking back on your life, what have you done that has given you the most satisfaction?

Sellers:  I am proud of my career.  I felt great satisfaction in reaching the pinnacle of my profession by becoming Chief.  There wasn’t another job in the state that I wanted.  

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

Sellers:  I play golf and enjoy that very much.  My wife and I go to all the Ole Miss athletic events—football, soccer, volleyball, rifle team.  We really enjoy that.  

Brown:  What else would you like to discuss?

Sellers:  I’d really like to mention a few people who have had the biggest influence on me starting with Andy Mullins.  I learned a great deal from him and admired the way he ran meetings.  He stayed on point and moved things along.  Gloria Kellum is someone that I admire very much.  She exemplified leadership and is so respected.  Chancellor Robert Khayat is someone who got things done and would include others to help him with projects/goals.  It was a privilege to work under Chancellor Khayat.  He was truly a great leader.  I loved working with Sparky Reardon.  He definitely knew the students and how to work with them.  I respect Jim Windham for his vast knowledge and someone who always got things done.  I think Noel Wilkin is an excellent Provost and is someone you can trust.  I have been privileged to work with some very fine people.  

Former Chief Mike Stewart, Andy Mullins, Chief Sellers, former Chief Randy Corban

Brown:  What story do you want people to tell about you?  What impact will you leave behind?
Sellers:  I hope that I have had a positive impact on younger law enforcement officers.  I also hope that they think I was a good role model and will carry that conduct forward.

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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