History is in making for Isoms

Published 12:00 pm Thursday, May 12, 2016

The name Isom has a long and storied history with Oxford and the University of Mississippi.

It was Dr. Thomas Dudley Isom who helped found and actually named Oxford after the university in England in hopes that one day the town would be home to a university. His vision became a reality in 1848 when the University of Mississippi was founded. His daughter, Sarah Isom, was the first female professor at UM, but graduated from Augusta Seminary in Staunton, Virginia.

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History will be made once again Saturday when the first descendent of T.D. Isom accepts his degree from the University of Mississippi during commencement in the Grove.

Michael Isom Jr., the great-great-great-grandson of Dr. T.D. Isom, will accept his criminal justice degree from the School of Applied Sciences with emphasis on Homeland Security and psychology.

Isom, 22, said he is honored to be representing his family.

“I think my great-grandfather is looking down proud to see someone of his lineage finally going through Ole Miss,” Isom said. “It’s kind of surreal that it’s all coming to an end. I don’t really understand the capacity and won’t realize how big this is I guess until I walk across that stage for my family.”

“We wish he would have been a doctor,” joked his father, Michael Isom Sr.

The elder Isom said it always has been a dream to have a direct descendent of the man who wanted a place of higher learning to be located in Oxford.

“I told Michael the other day that ‘you’re walking on ground more than 150 years ago a man envisioned educating people and now you are one of them,’” Isom said.

He had that dream also for himself.

“It was always my dream to go to school there, but I got drafted into the Navy and got out and went to Louisiana Tech University,” Isom Sr. said. “I’ve been in construction for 40-something years now.”

Isom Sr. is a superintendent for Linkous Construction in Memphis and his wife and children live in Germantown, Tennessee.

According to UM public relations director Jon Scott, the alumni association indicates there have been several Isoms to graduate from Ole Miss over the years, but according to Michael Isom Sr., his son is the first direct descendant of T.D. Isom to earn a degree.

Isom Sr. said former chancellor Dan Jones, also a physician, was instrumental in getting his son to attend Ole Miss. Jones wanted to see a couple of medical books the family still has that once belonged to Dr. Isom.

“He made Michael bring him the books and made sure that Michael came back and got them,” Isom Sr. said.

Jones, in fact, was one of the first people Isom met when he visited the Oxford campus. According to Isom, Jones convinced him of the value of an education at Ole Miss and the significance his heritage had to the university.

“I went through the Chancellor Leadership class with him,” Isom said. “He and his wife are great people.”

The books came into the possession of the family in an odd way.

When Michael Isom Sr.’s grandfather was moving the family from the Isom House to Memphis, he stored the medical books in some oak barrels and had the barrels placed in a barn on land the family owned at Clear Creek. The barn caught fire and destroyed the books.

“About 20 years ago, I drove down to the area where my grandfather had sold that land and a guy was about to build on the property,” Isom Sr. said. The two struck up a conversation and Isom informed the landowner he was a direct descendent of Dr. Isom.

“He said, ‘I got something for you’ and went inside and brought out two medical books that belonged to my great-great-great-grandfather,” Isom Sr. said.

Isom Jr. may be the first, but he’s not the last to attend Ole Miss and hopefully get a degree from the university. His younger brother Joshua will be a freshman when he begins classes this summer.

“He’s on an ROTC scholarship and will be taking Arabic this summer,” Isom Sr. said.

Isom Jr. also plans to enter the military after graduation Saturday. His focus is on the U.S. Army and Officer Candidate School.

“I couldn’t see myself sitting behind a desk,” said Isom.

He said he enjoyed every aspect of college life at Ole Miss, including fraternity life as an ATO.

“It’s been an enlightening experience during my years here,” Isom said. “I’ve actually been observing from what my great-grandfather envisioned and I’m sure he’s proud of where it’s at and hopefully he’s seeing all of this through my eyes.”

Isom Family Tree

Michael P. Isom Jr.


Michael P. Isom Sr. and Sandra Lickiss (parents)


Lem Gale Isom Sr. and Phyllis Foropolous (grandparents)


Thomas Dudley Isom and Nina Cathey (great-grandparents)


Thomas Dudley Isom and Jennie Byrd (great-great-grandparents) and Sarah Isom (great-great-great-aunt)


Dr. Thomas Dudley Isom and Sarah McGehee (great-great-great-grandparents)