Just turning 18 years old and a procrastinator, I was in the spring of my senior year at Whitehaven High in Memphis, located just south of Graceland, on what is now called Elvis Presley Boulevard.
Besides knowing I would go to college, I hadn't really given too much thought to where I should go, so I sat down and considered what was important to me. I was as interested in the humanities as the sciences, and I liked the size and nature of a demanding liberal arts college, so I looked for one in the vicinity.
My requirements were that it have more girls than guys; no ROTC; be affordable; and be far enough from Memphis that I would only come home on special occasions. As Millsaps was a recognized "best buy," it satisfied all the parameters. Then, they sealed the deal by giving me a scholarship - for $50!
The choice of Millsaps was my first epiphany. So, two score and eight years ago, I walked onto the Millsaps campus for the first time. Unlike today, when prospective students might visit several campuses before deciding where to go, I first saw Millsaps when I arrived in late August of 1962.
My parents dropped me and my few belongings at Burton Hall, doubtless long ago condemned. It was Spartan even then: two hard beds, two desks, and two closets. Not even a light for the desk. These were indeed interesting times, as James Meredith and I were contemporaries.
Now ensconced at Millsaps I had to decide what I should study. I thought it might be English, where I might write poetry, which I had dabbled at in high school like most adolescents. But after realizing I didn't know what T. S. Eliot was talking about, I decided that wasn't for me!
Not really knowing what to do, but noticing how many of my new classmates were in pre-med, I thought maybe I should be, too. So, I listed myself that way, and had the great fortune to have Dr. Jim McKeown as my advisor. One of the nice things about Millsaps is that faculty advisors actually listen, and when talking to me, Dr. McKeown saw that I was less interested in pre-med, per se, than in the sciences. He had the foresight to put me in physics instead of his zoology course, along with the math and chemistry I'd be taking anyway. And that made quite a difference!
Under the influence of Bill Hendee, Sam Knox, and especially Roy Berry, who kept Jim Purser and me busy working problems in Acy's Grill most afternoons, I experienced a new world. Like Bill Hendee, Dr. Berry had just arrived, and he taught me freshman chemistry. Partway through the semester, this led to my second epiphany: that what I wanted to do with my life was to be a professor like Dr. Berry.
To do that, though, I had to prepare myself for graduate school and pursue a Ph. D. That sense of direction started my freshman year. In fact, on many a Friday and Saturday night, I would hunch over my Spartan desk in Burton studying to be good enough to go to grad school, while my Sig brothers would be trying to get me to go out.
Another imposing influence from my sophomore year was seeing Dr. J. B. Price teach physical chemistry, which he did almost to the day he died in November 1963. His illness was such that he couldn't speak, so he wrote his lectures on the blackboard for us.
After analytical chemistry with Dr. Berry, and his organic course, which soon became legendary, I had the opportunity to have my first course in my senior year with Dr. Gene Cain. By that time, my soon-to-be-wife, Beverly (Bartlett), B.S. 1966, had transferred into Millsaps as a senior! Given Millsaps' oral and written qualifying exams and miscellaneous other required courses that were not required at then-Mississippi State College for Women, this took some courage.
Dr. Cain taught us in a course called Advanced Inorganic Chemistry, out of a book by Day and Selbin, that Bev, Rick Varcoe, B.S. 1966, and I would use the next year at the University of Florida. Millsaps' chemistry was ahead of the curve. But in particular, this course offered me my next epiphany: I learned about quantum chemistry, which means approaching the structure, spectra, and reactions of molecules from solving the quantum mechanical equations for their electrons.
In the words of Robert Mulliken, if we "know what the electrons are doing in molecules," we can know all there is about molecules and their reactions. It also enabled me to put physics, math, and chemistry together in a nice, neat package, and not have to go into a smelly lab ever again! That's exactly what I have been doing for the last 43 years, and I hope to continue to do so for the remaining time I'm given.
Al Bishop joined the faculty after we left, so my interactions with him occurred when I would return for some purpose, perhaps recruiting Millsaps students to go to grad school, or to check on my son Ron (Bartlett), B.A. 1996, or in my capacity on the Science Advisory Board of Jackson State University.
Bishop's enthusiasm for chemistry and teaching at Millsaps was contagious! He was clearly a memorable personality who had a major influence on Millsaps and many students. How many chemistry professors can readily assume the guise of Darth Vader?
Bev and I left Millsaps in 1966 to join the Quantum Theory Project at the University of Florida. Even that was greatly influenced by Drs. Berry, Cain, and Cliff Mansfield, all of whom had done time at the Florida school, with Dr. Mansfield getting his Ph.D. there.
One of my favorite lines was spoken by that famous Mississippian, William Faulkner, who wrote: "In the South, the past is never past." When it comes to the kind of education we benefitted from at Millsaps, the past is never past.
When you consider all the Ph.D.s Millsaps College and its chemistry department in particular have graduated, what other occupation than being a professor and teacher can have such a continuing influence on the world?
Just as Drs. Cain, Berry and Bishop educated us, many of us have become professors and teachers ourselves. We have educated the next generation.They and many others who have benefited from the education I and others received at Millsaps will educate the next generation, and they, in turn, the next.
The legacy of these scientists, these teachers, Drs. Berry, Cain, and Bishop, will never be in the past. It will always be with us.