A friend’s description of the University of Mississippi and Sardis Lake planted the seed that Oxford would be an “almost a perfect place to live.” Phil Malone’s talked with Hottytoddy.com’s contributor Bonnie Brown about his Ole Miss story.
Brown: Where did you grow up? What is special about the place you grew up? Please talk about your childhood and family.
Malone: I was the second born of six children. All of my early youth was spent in Marshall County, Alabama. I was born in Albertville and also lived in two rural communities near Guntersville. My family moved to Arab, Alabama a few weeks after I started the first grade. Arab was a small town with a population of less than 2,000.
Brown: Where did you go to school?
Malone: I started school in a one-room schoolhouse at Alder Springs outside of Guntersville, Alabama. After a few weeks I transferred to Arab for grades one through ten. Arab was somewhat unique in that a high percentage of its workforce was employed at Redstone Arsenal. The city schools in Arab received special funding because of this and were able to pay a supplement. I always felt that I benefited from especially excellent math and science teachers because they were attracted by the higher salaries. I attended Dalton High in Dalton, Georgia my junior and senior years and received a scholarship to Berry College in Rome, Georgia for four years. At Berry, I majored in accounting, was business manager of the yearbook and graded test papers for the religion department. Upon completion of my undergraduate degree, I received a three-year fellowship to the University of Florida. I attended only one semester before I was drafted into the Army during the Viet Nam era. My older brother was in Viet Nam so I did not go. I served for 21 months mostly in New York City and the Panama Canal Zone as a chaplain’s assistant. I returned to the Ph.D. program at the University of Florida in June 1970 after reapplying and receiving a fellowship in the Finance Department. I successfully defended my dissertation and completed all the requirements for the Ph.D. degree in the summer of 1974.
Brown: What were you really into when you were a kid?
Malone: As a child growing up in the post-World War II era, I was especially interested in anything related to the war from books such as “None More Courageous” to movies such as “In Harm’s Way.” I also spent a great deal of time fishing or playing simulated war games outdoors. In late childhood and my early teen years I actively played baseball, basketball and football. Subsequently, I collected sport cards for all three.
Brown: What was your favorite cartoon when you were growing up and why?
Malone: I particularly enjoyed Road Runner Cartoons. In a crude way it represents one of the earliest examples of bullying with the physically weak Road Runner matched against a dangerous and stronger bully. The fact that the Road Runner was able to defeat the Wily E. Coyote by outwitting him strongly appealed to me. As a young child I was smaller and faster than a lot of other children and the thought of using intelligence and speed as a tool for surviving or avoiding hardship was particularly appealing to me. Also, I considered the violence in the series to be justified and funny. Moreover, most of the damage inflicted upon Wile E. Coyote was actually self-imposed.
Brown: What’s your earliest memory as a child? How old were you?
Malone: For most of the first six years of my life, my family lived on a small farm (less than a hundred acres) in the Pleasant Grove Community between Guntersville and Albertville. Two of my earliest recollections revolved around trips to a rural route mailbox which must have been about a quarter to a half mile away from our house. With small children in the family (I was less than five) several family members would make the short journey to pick up the mail each day. On one particular occasion my mother, myself, and two of my brothers were returning from the mailbox together. As usual, I was walking behind picking up rocks and talking to myself. Unexpectedly, a snake crossed the gravel road between me and the rest of my family. I remember that the snake was very long and seemed to stretch across most of the road between us. Of course, I screamed. Mother calmly advised me to run around the side of the road. I was very scared but chose to run around by the embankment near the tail end of the snake to circumvent the danger. Perhaps a half a year later I walked to the mailbox with my two brothers. My elder brother was probably twelve years old. On this occasion we were stopped at a neighbor’s farm. Our house was on fire and was subsequently destroyed. Shortly afterward we moved into a vacant house next to my grandmother at Alder Springs, Alabama.
Brown: Tell us how/when your Ole Miss “story” began? Who hired you? How long did you work at Ole Miss?
Malone: I joined the Economics and Finance Department of the School of Business at Ole Miss in August of 1973 after being recruited by Cabell Shull who was the department chair. I remained in the Business School when the Department of Economics was moved to the College of Liberal Arts and retired at the end of December in 2008. During that 35 plus year period, I also served as Finance Area Coordinator, Finance Department Chair, Director of the Internship Program and Director of the MBA Program.
Brown: What did you know about Ole Miss before you accepted a position here?
Malone: I had a close friend in Arab whose father was employed by the Army Corp of Engineers at Redstone Arsenal in Huntsville. I think that my friend lived very close to Sardis Lake (perhaps Oxford, Sardis or Batesville) before moving to Arab. I still have a vivid memory of his description of the University of Mississippi and Sardis Lake. My recollection is that I felt it would be almost a perfect place to live. At that time I had never been outside of the State of Alabama and could not even imagine ever living in Oxford or, for that matter, any place in Mississippi. It is really ironic that I have spent most of my life here.
Brown: Who influenced you in your early life? Did you have a mentor who influenced your career choice?
Malone: I would have to say that a handful of teachers in math, civics and biology classes at Arab High School and physics and math classes at Dalton High School were jointly responsible for my success in getting a scholarship to Berry College. In turn, I am indebted to history and to an accounting professor at Berry College for advice and encouragement to pursue a Ph.D. Degree at the University of Florida. My career as finance professor was strongly influenced by three members of the University of Florida finance faculty. Dr. Cabell Shull who recruited me into the Department of Economics and Finance was also instrumental in getting me elected to the Faculty Senate. Thanks largely to this exposure early in my academic career at Ole Miss, I became much more active in the affairs of the University and the State of Mississippi. Subsequently, I was able to make a contribution towards enhancing faculty salaries at the university level and retirement pension policy at the state level. I later played a significant role in gaining acceptance for the “Computers on Every Desk” initiative. The latter proved very time consuming but I have always felt that it was time very well spent. Among others, Brian Reithel, T. J. Ray, Lee Bolen, Jim Windham, Carolyn Staton, David Roach, Jim Shankle, Robert Khayat, and Gloria Kellum were also major contributors to gaining acceptance and executing that project.
Brown: You were awarded the Elsie M. Hood Outstanding Teacher Award. Tell us about that.
Malone: That is one of three very humbling experiences that I have had in my life. The other two were receiving the Outstanding Lineman Award on the Dalton High School Football Team in 1964 and being the only Summa Cum Laude graduate from Berry College in 1968. In all three cases, I realized that there were teammates, classmates or colleagues that were at least equally, if not more, deserving than myself for the respective award. In the case of the Hood Award, I subsequently served on the selection committee for several years after receiving the award and was privileged to review letters of nomination from students, teacher evaluations, etc. In two of those years, I chaired the committee and provided a tabulation of information about each candidate to the selection committee. This experience was even more humbling as it was obvious to me that some very deserving individuals will likely never receive the recognition that they truly deserve. To select a single candidate for an award from a team or a class or a university has always been somewhat troubling to me. Even in the fairest of selection procedures the lines of demarcation between deserving candidate is probably very thin. That said, I consider the Hood Award as my greatest honor.
Brown: In your opinion, what attributes/traits predict success in life?
Malone: My personal definition for success is probably different than for most. It should not be assessed solely upon popularity and/or wealth. I feel that success should be largely judged based on the impact of one’s life and actions upon the “wellbeing” and “happiness” that follows from their life to others in society. A single trait or characteristic that should weigh heavily, using this definition of success, is whether someone truly likes others well enough to make sacrifices which are beneficial for them. To be truly successful, one should also be willing to make allowances for reasonable shortcomings and be tolerant of weaknesses in others.
Brown: What one question can you ask someone to find out the most about them?
Malone: Are you a person who really likes other people?
Brown: I know you recently traveled. What did you do on your vacation?
Malone: Upon retiring from Ole Miss I had only visited two countries outside the US and they were the Panama Canal Zone (courtesy of the Army) and Canada. Since retiring I have visited all seven continents as well as most of the countries of Europe and about half those in South America. I have spent about three months in Italy including about sixty days in Rome. In 2012, I was asked by St. Johns University to teach two MBA courses at their Rome campus. This was a good experience for me. Rome was always one of my favorite cities to visit and I enjoyed the exposure to teaching students there as well as interacting with the locals.
Brown: Talk about some of the interesting people you have met while traveling.
Malone: I have found people from all over the world to be friendly, kind and helpful. My experiences in this regard are too numerous to detail so I will give an abbreviated example. We were in Milan, Italy and my wife and I got on a bus to travel from the airport to our hotel. However, I had to get off to pick up a ticket at a nearby machine and the bus left with her and our luggage. Three of the passengers on the bus huddled. One of them, an Alitalia stewardess who spoke some English, gave my wife her bus ticket (there is a steep fine in Milan for boarding a bus without a ticket). The other two, a man who spoke a little English and elderly lady who spoke no English, conferenced and identified the bus stop nearest to our hotel. The elder lady got off the bus with my wife and walked her to the hotel door. I got on the next bus from the airport and found my wife waiting in the hotel. In the days before cell phones this was a best case scenario.
Brown: What three words best describe you?
Malone: Educator, Innovator and Facilitator
Brown: What’s the most useful thing you own?
Malone: It is a tossup between my computer and a shovel. Since I am now very much retired and almost indifferent between the two I will argue in favor of the seemingly less likely choice. Very few days go by that I do not use a shovel. I use the shovel given to me by my son to move plants that are in the wrong place or die. Even if I don’t understand why they are dying, I may be able to provide an opportunity for them to survive if they are moved. I learned how to move shrubs and trees the first year that I attended Berry College while working on the crew for the lower campus. I learned so well that I have moved several trees and shrubs multiple times and some of them are still alive. Also, a shovel is indispensable for burying mistakes. I try to recycle almost anything that is not harmful to the environment and that is organic into my garden. I have also installed walkways, a drainage system, retaining walls, patios, flower beds, etc. A shovel is essential in removing debris after any type of project that entails stone, sand, concrete, asphalt, etc. While I really do not particularly enjoy shoveling I do realize a real benefit from the exercise that it offers me. My wife is also elated when I finally use a shovel to clean up after each project. Without a shovel to clean up, I would be up against the proverbial creek.
Brown: Do you have a favorite quote? What is it and why is it your favorite?
Malone: This is not exactly what some would call a quote but it is very close. I like to draw inspiration from a few lines of two poems. The first is from “Invictus” by William Ernest Henley. I have found this to be particularly helpful when I need to muster up the courage to do the “right thing” when it is not popular or in the face of strong opposition.
“It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishment the scroll,
I am the master of my fate,
I am the captain of my soul.”
The second is from the poem “If” by Rudyard Kipling which I use to remind myself to avoid major mood swings associated with the outcomes of important event/decisions in my life.
“If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same.”
Brown: What’s your favorite way to waste time?
Malone: I can easily waste hours on the computer and the internet. I particularly enjoy growing things (trees, shrubs, flowers and vegetables). I like to start plants from seeds. I essentially gave up watching commercial television about 25 years ago but have always enjoyed movies. My wife and I essentially watch a movie or series (such as PBS) on DVD, Netflix or Amazon Prime every night.
Brown: What has been your routine since retirement? Do you have any hobbies?
Malone: Gardening and travel are my most time consuming hobbies. Fossils and semiprecious stones are still a part of my collections. I still buy sports cards, but I no longer collect them. Instead, I donate these to the Christmas Store. I enjoy putting together gifts consisting of unopened packs of cards as well as selections of cards of outstanding historical and current players. For about the last twenty years I have bought baseball and basketball cards on eBay in order to put together gifts which include some of the best players in each sport.
Bonnie Brown is a retired staff member of the University of Mississippi. She most recently served as Mentoring Coordinator for the Ole Miss Women’s Council for Philanthropy.
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