By Charlie Mitchell
For the two weeks known on campus as August Intersession, the Meek School of Journalism and New Media was fortunate to have Thomas G. “Tommy” Clarkson as guest professor of International Journalism.
As Clarkson prepared to end his first-ever visit to Oxford — not to return to his home in Mexico, but to jet off on an extended tour of Europe with his wife, Patty — a casual shirt with the Ole Miss logo seemed to be an appropriate gift.
As he looked at it, I explained, “Now as you go through airports and such, people will see that logo, smile at you, make eye contact and say, ‘Hotty Toddy.’”
Clarkson grew up in Kansas and has worked in cities and nations large and small all over the globe. He’s a decorated Vietnam veteran who retired from the Army and has continued to serve in public information capacities as a civilian in lots of places, ranging from tiny islands in the Pacific to multiple deployments during the peak of fighting in Iraq.
“What am I supposed to do when they say that?” he asked.
And I told him, “Just smile back and repeat, ‘Hotty Toddy.’”
The two words would create a bond of recognition based on shared experiences with the University of Mississippi.
“Hotty Toddy,” Clarkson said, as if to practice.
As a veteran, Clarkson realized that most branches of the military have similar call and respond greetings — “hooha,” “oorah” and “hooah” among them.
Other universities — the lucky ones — also have recognizable greetings.
Now someone in the sociology or anthropology or psychology department would be far more qualified to explain what happens in our brains when we are recognized by a stranger and greeted with words of camaraderie.
As a professional pencil pusher, all I can say is that when it happens to me — and it has — it makes me feel good. It is uplifting, relaxing.
Perhaps more than ever, airports are wearisome, stressful places. Too, people rarely “dine” on the road. We gobble enough nourishment to get us to the next meal time.
Any time someone gives us a smile or a nod or a “hello,” that’s certainly welcome. But when someone gives us a “Hotty Toddy” it means exponentially more. It means we have something in common with the greeter — specifically a positive relationship with a great American university. Our sense of “aloneness” vanishes. There is a sensation of good cheer.
Something else to think about — especially if our travels are far flung as Clarkson’s often are — is the vastness of this entity called Rebel Nation. “Hotty Toddies” are, no doubt, exchanged every day in New Orleans, Houston, San Francisco and Chicago and, almost as likely, in London, Paris, Beijing, Moscow and Sydney.
Ole Miss fans compose a community, an ever-growing, ever-widening community. Time and place may separate most of the members of the community from most of the others most of the time. Two simple words bridge all gaps: “Hotty Toddy.”
Charlie Mitchell has been a journalist in Mississippi since 1975 and assistant dean of the Meek School of Journalism and New Media since 2010. He has written a weekly opinion column, syndicated to Mississippi newspapers for more than 20 years.