Remembering a man who took the time to care

Published 4:45 pm Friday, February 25, 2022

Thursday, February 24, 2022, 3 p.m., two hours before the deadline for this column, I shockingly discovered that one of my all-time heroes and father figure, Dr. Gerald W. Walton, had died.  Mind, computer, not working, tears streaming down my face, so stressed, scrapped column I had written and resurrected this column I wrote in March 2016:

 

Periodically, I have and will continue to write about persons who have had a positive impact on my life – not an easy task to put into words, especially with a restrictive word limit.  

For one to be my “hero” (male or female/past or present) is a bit difficult for them because I do not trust easily, and it generally takes years for someone to get to really know me and me them.  Most people misjudge me because I am very introverted, a deep thinker, educated, but having three older sisters no one ever cared to hear what I had to say – so I am not verbally articulate – just go about my business, work to better whatever job assigned and myself.

My heroes must possess high personal qualities that I strive to emulate, have become my friend by taking the time to find out who I truly am, and care about me unconditionally.  Or, are persons that I know or don’t know who I admire.  

Dr. Gerald W. Walton retired from the position of Provost at the University of Mississippi in 1999. He served on the faculty in a variety of positions during his forty-year tenure at the university, including professor of English, Dean of the College of Liberal Arts, Assistant Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs, and Interim Chancellor. 

Arriving on the Ole Miss campus in December 1988 to work and begin my Ph.D. in Educational Psychology (Counselor Education), it seems I always knew Dr. Walton but cannot pinpoint exactly when our friendship changed and he obtained the status as one of my heroes – he was just one of those persons who did not judge me, cared about me, and I cared about him.

Because my dad died a few weeks before beginning my college career when we were both way too young, Dr. Walton also assumed a father-figure role for me; hope you don’t mind me saying that Dr. Walton.

Dr. Walton (who has never aged), is quite knowledgeable, somewhat reserved with a “dry” sense of humor, and I can’t say we have ever had a lengthy conversation about anything – but his caring for me did not require many words.

When Dr. Robert Khayat was Chancellor, our historic Ole Miss Lyceum underwent an $11 million renovation from 1998 to 2001.  Prior to the renovation, my office as Assistant Director of the Career Center was located on the third floor (before elevators), back right corner with one window facing the Library and the other the School of Business; I will always cherish the time spent in this amazing and history-filled building.   

When the Lyceum was completely gutted, Dr. Walton took me on a memorable and mind-boggling tour of it.  Wow!  There was nothing in there but rubble from the outer walls to the rafters!  At one point, Dr. Walton gestured up to the rafters charred by fire…which made me gulp because on at least two occasions I nearly panicked arriving around 7:00 am at the Career Center and realized I had left the coffee pot on overnight!  Swell, my legacy – burning down the Ole Miss Lyceum!

For this column, I asked Dr. Walton in an email how the Lyceum rafters got burned.  He replied with three different instances of fire but the one in the December 1930 “Daily Mississippian” reported the fire was suspected to be defective wiring and started on the third floor or in the attic and was not allowed to spread. 

Adding, “I hope you are well. Always good to hear from you, and of course I enjoy your posts on Facebook, especially the segments on Thacker.  All the best, Gerald”

On November 11, 2008, I had my photo taken with Dr. Walton as he signed my copy of his fantastic book, “The University of Mississippi: A Pictorial History,” at Off Square Books. He told me with a smile, that he had submitted a photo of me advising an MBA student for the book when I was Director of MBA Career Services in the Ole Miss School of Business Administration, but it didn’t make it because, “I was too ugly!” Ha!  

I love and miss you, Dr. Walton.  Thank you for caring about me and being my friend and, “dad.” Be well – Happy Spring and Easter!

 

Steve Stricker is an Oxford resident and received his Ph.D. in Counseling from Ole Miss.  He can be reached at sstricke@olemiss.edu