*The latest installment in the Ole Miss Retirees features is former UM Telecommunications Specialist Ellawee Ivy. The organization’s mission is to enable all of the university’s faculty and staff retirees to maintain and promote a close association with the university. It is the goal of the Ole Miss Faculty/Staff Retirees Association to maintain communication by providing opportunities to attend and participate in events and presentations.
Ellawee probably knew everyone on campus and likely fielded calls from everyone on campus at one time or another. She worked in Telecommunications and was very knowledgeable and always helpful, a real problem solver. She also talked with parents, students, alumni, and the general public. Read about her Ole Miss story here:
Brown: Where did you grow up? Where did you go to school?
Ivy: I grew up in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. It was much different then, very clean, no ghetto areas and very safe. I walked to my elementary school and then when I went to high school, I rode a bus which was a few blocks from my house. The winters were terrible with plenty of snow. In fact, once I slipped getting off the bus and the bus driver was afraid I had really injured myself, but thankfully, the only thing hurt was my ego.
Brown: How did you find your way to Mississippi?
Ivy: My husband, Earl, came to visit family in Milwaukee and lived there for a while. A family member introduced us. When we married, we moved to Mississippi in 1971. My father, Johnnie Lewis Odom, was originally from Forest, Mississippi and often talked about moving back which he did after he retired in 1975. My mother, Cora Lee Odom, continued to work in Wisconsin until she retired from nursing and joined my father in Mississippi. I was an only child so that may have influenced my parents’ decision to move to Mississippi.
Brown: Your name Ellawee is lovely, and you are the only Ellawee I’ve known. Is it a family name?
Ivy: Yes, it is different. I asked my dad where my name came from and he told me that he had an old girlfriend named Eloise. He liked the name and modified it slightly to name me “Ellawee.” I don’t have a middle name.
Brown: Tell us how/when your Ole Miss “story” began? Who hired you? How long did you work at Ole Miss?
Ivy: I worked at Treasury Drugs here in Oxford for 10 years until they closed. Buster Clark hired me in a temporary position with Telephone Exchange (now Telecommunications) as one of eight operators. I worked for Ole Miss for 21 years.
Brown: What position(s) did you hold? What were your job responsibilities?
Ivy: My job title initially was Operator, but that only lasted for a few hours when I was moved to the front desk. My title there was Receptionist. I was the point of contact for the campus for many issues relating to the Telephone Exchange. I think a large part of my job was customer service. I got calls from students and parents, in addition to the faculty, staff, and administrators and quickly learned that in order to do my job well, I needed to learn about the whole department. As technology expanded, so did my job and my title was changed to Telecommunications Specialist. I always tried to be helpful and stay current with issues across the campus.
Brown: What were your “best” and “worst” days at work and why?
Ivy: My best days were those when there were few problems. My worst days were during orientation when it was so busy. I would tell during that time whether the academic year was going to be a good one or bad one based on how orientation went. I dealt with a lot of parents and almost felt as if I was raising their children too.
Brown: What advice would you give to your 20-year-old self?
Ivy: I would say to me at age 20 to take the time to mature and grow, to develop good character. Life experiences will help you succeed and determine how you deal with life.
Brown: What’s the biggest holiday for you and your family?
Ivy: That would be Christmas. It’s a time when I am focused on the kids and grandkids. It’s always nice when we can get together and celebrate as a family. Special times creates special memories.
Brown: Do you have a favorite holiday movie?
Ivy: Yes, that would be “Miracle on 34th Street.” I prefer the old version, the black and white movie that I watched as a kid. I like the updated versions fine but I really enjoy watching Maureen O’Hara the mother who didn’t want her daughter (played by Natalie Wood) to be told there was a Santa Claus (played by Edmund Gwenn).
Brown: What was the best invention of the last 50 years?
Ivy: I’d have to say the microwave oven. I love the convenience and it’s easy to use too and a real time saver!
Brown: You are so easy going. I don’t think I’ve ever seen you upset. What makes you angry?
Ivy: What makes me angry is when I see someone being mistreated and I know that there’s nothing I can do about it. That’s one reason that I don’t watch the news. There ‘s so much bad stuff happening these days and it makes me angry to feel helpless to change the circumstances.
Brown: Having been part of the Ole Miss Telephone Exchange, do you now text more or call?
Ivy: I call more. I don’t like texting, I’d rather talk in person especially to my family members.
Brown: What do you consider your greatest accomplishment?
Ivy: Getting to this age! I’m fortunate that I have no major medical issues, I don’t have to take any medication, and I consider myself to be a fairly healthy person. I also feel accomplished for having raised three children to be productive adults. I am proud of them and thankful that they didn’t give me any trouble growing up. My son Damien and my daughter Dominique live in Oxford and my other daughter Tabitha lives in Atlanta.
Brown: What makes you roll your eyes every time you see/hear it?
Ivy: Anytime someone looks at me and all they see is an older Black lady with gray hair and they talk down to me. I don’t like that the younger generation has such little respect for their elders. I just roll my eyes and walk away. There’s no point getting into a fuss over bad behavior.
Brown: What’s the best advice you ever received?
Ivy: The best advice I ever got came from my parents. They told me to be myself, not to try to impress others. It’s the same advice I passed along to my children.
Brown: What was “cool” when you were young, but isn’t considered cool now?
Ivy: I’d have to say listening to the old time Blues music on the radio. I could do that for hours. I loved that experience. I really don’t like some of the current music and I don’t care for rap music.
Brown: What values are most important to you and why?
Ivy: Honesty is very important to me. I’d rather someone be direct and honest in their communications with me. I’ve also told my children not to burn their bridges in life and to treat everybody the way they want to be treated. You never know that the people you see on your way up might be the same people you see on your way down, so don’t burn those bridges.
Brown: Tell us something about yourself that people might not know.
Ivy: I have always been quiet and I love solitude. It may have something to do with being an only child. I am not very comfortable being in large crowds. I have become more outgoing than when I was younger.
Brown: What “old person” things do you do?
Ivy: I’m not sure I want to answer that question. I will admit to talking to myself, or as I prefer to call it “thinking out loud.” I also make lists to keep me on task.
Brown: What became your new routine after you retired from work? Do you have hobbies?
Ivy: When I retired, I was able to give more time to care for my husband who was ill and passed in 2012. I thought for a time that I might return to work, but I enjoy being at home and being able to set my own schedule. I am happy to have the time to help my neighbors and I enjoy crossword puzzles. I also read a lot.
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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