Gift honoring late professor supports special education

Published 11:00 am Monday, January 31, 2022

The slow pace of sheltering at home the last two years during a global pandemic gave Luetta Ford, a 1967 University of Mississippi alumna, time to think about the influential people in her life and make decisions about how she wants to be remembered.

As a result, the Lady Lake, Florida, resident established the Luetta W. Ford Scholarship for Special Education, which pays tribute to the late James W. Mann, a professor in the UM School of Education.

“Professor James Mann was my mentor while I attended Ole Miss, and he offered me a full fellowship for my senior year and for a master’s degree, with the stipulation that I teach a year in between, which I did in Southaven,” said Ford, who also received a master’s degree from the University of Memphis.

“I can’t do what Dr. Mann did for me, but I hope this scholarship will do two things: inspire students to go into special education and inspire classes in other areas of special education.”

The support from Ford is a blended gift, with $30,000 establishing the scholarship and another $133,000 committed through a planned estate gift that will supplement the endowment.

“Blended gifts like Ford’s exemplify one of the goals of the university’s newly launched $1.5 billion fundraising initiative, Now & Ever: The Campaign for Ole Miss,” said David Rock, dean of the School of Education.

“We are grateful for Lu’s initial commitment that will provide immediate scholarship support to students in the special education field here at our School of Education, and we are especially thankful for her planned gift that will provide assistance for future students. Her generosity will not only honor in perpetuity Dr. James Mann, but it will also provide scholarship support for generations of students at the Ole Miss School of Education.”

Mann joined the Ole Miss faculty in special education in January 1965 and retired in 1999 after 34 years of service. He is credited with establishing the North Mississippi Regional Center and working with then-Gov. Bill Waller to develop a statewide plan for Mississippi to improve services for adults, youth and children with disabilities.

“You just can’t imagine how moved I am by Luetta’s gift in memory of Jimmy, especially because he would have never sought any attention for his work,” said Kitty Mann, Mann’s widow and an Oxford resident.

“Jimmy had a vision for Mississippi in the area of special education and he wanted to make a difference. He loved what he did. He touched so many lives, and I think my husband’s life was well-lived.”

James Mann died in January 2020. The couple raised two children: Mary Mann Austin, of Jackson, and Michael Mann, of Clinton.

Ford enjoyed a long career in education and continues to give her mentor a great deal of credit.

“All of my professors at Ole Miss were inspiring, but Dr. Mann helped cement me on my path into the special education field,” said Ford, who taught overseas for the Department of Defense for 30 years. She was stationed on bases in Italy, Germany, Turkey and Japan.

“He led me on an adventure and, I think, maybe it was a great service that I was able to do in teaching the kids I taught,” Ford said.

The Luetta W. Ford Scholarship Fund for Special Education in Honor of James W. Mann is open to support from businesses and individuals. Gifts can be made to by sending a check, with the fund’s name noted on the memo line, to the University of Mississippi Foundation, 406 University Ave., Oxford, MS 38655, or by visiting https://nowandever.olemiss.edu.

For more information about planned estate gifts, contact Daniel Wiseman, senior director of gift planning, at daniel@olemiss.edu or 662-915-7601.

For more information about ways to support the School of Education, contact Kelly Smith Marion, associate director of development, at ksmith13@olemiss.edu or 662-915-2007.