Bonnie Brown: Q&A with Former Psychology Professor Dr. Stan O’Dell

*The latest installment in the Ole Miss Retirees features is former Psychology Professor Dr. Stan O’Dell. 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.

Stan O’Dell has had successful careers as a psychology professor and as an artist.  I knew him as a professor first, then many years ago, I saw his drawing of Ventress Hall and was truly impressed with his amazing talent.  Read about his Ole Miss story and fulfilling his calling to his art.  

Brown:  Where did you grow up?  What is special about the place you grew up?  Please talk about your childhood and family.

O’Dell:  I grew up in St. Louis and Springfield, Missouri.  My childhood was quite normal. My parents were married for 67 years and gave me a stable and encouraging home.  My parents, Casey and Walene O’Dell, valued education highly and worked hard to make sure I could attend college.   They owned and operated a home for disabled adults. My father is deceased and my mother is 97 and lives at The Blake here in Oxford.  I have one brother, Dennis, who is an attorney. He is as extraverted as I am introverted.

Brown:  Where did you go to school?

O’Dell:  At Drury College in Springfield.  I majored in psychology and minored in art.  I originally considered being an art therapist until I learned that clinical psychologists have many more opportunities and make a lot more money.

In 1970 I received my Ph.D. in clinical psychology from Nova-Southeastern University in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida.

Brown:  What were you really into when you were a kid?

O’Dell:  From an early age I was drawn to making things, especially art.  I colored in the lines as carefully as possible, completely ignoring Picasso and Pollock.  Also, I ran track in high school and played tennis and golf. I probably had too many interests.  At sixteen I got a summer job in the photo department of a discount store. A friend there introduced me to darkrooms and smelly chemicals.  I have been a photo addict since, always building a new darkroom in each place that I lived. Then, Photoshop made darkrooms irrelevant.

The Bow by Stan O’Dell

Brown:  Tell us how/when your Ole Miss “story” began?   Who hired you? How long did you work at Ole Miss?

O’Dell:  In 1975, the search for my first job as a psychologist took me to a conference in Atlanta.  While waiting for an interview a man beside me said, “What are you here for?” That man was Dr. Bobby Tate, the Chairman of Psychology at Ole Miss.  I handed him a copy of my resume. A week later he invited me for an interview. So, at 25 years old, I joined the faculty at UM. I consider that stranger asking why I was there to be the luckiest day of my professional career.  I worked at Ole Miss for 27 years.

Purple Rain by Stan O’Dell

Brown:  What did you know about Ole Miss before you accepted a position here?

O’Dell:  I knew nothing about Ole Miss until I came for my job interview.  The azaleas were in full bloom, which, being such a visually-oriented person, made me think this was a great place to live.  How right I was!

Brown:  Who influenced you in your early life?  Did you have a mentor who influenced your career choice?

O’Dell:  My interest in psychology began in a course in high school.  My introversion, endless introspection, and fascination with people’s behavior found a home in psychology books.  One psychology professor in college, Dr. George Hampton, was especially encouraging in preparing me to apply to graduate schools.

Although focusing heavily on psychology, I was also taking art classes, which I loved.  One class focused on drawing the nude figure. This would very much foretell my artistic future. Also, my photography skills improved greatly as I became Drury’s head Public Relations and yearbook photographer.  I spent much of my life at that time in a darkroom.

Brown:  Talk about your career as an artist.  When did you first develop an interest in drawing/painting/photography?

O’Dell:  I cannot remember my first interest in art.   My mother says drawing and coloring fascinated me from the time I could hold a crayon.  Art has been a steadily expanding area of my life since. I took art classes in high school and extra art classes during the summer. As mentioned earlier, my photography interest began at age 16 and, for half a century, has also become intertwined with my art.

Yoga Master by Stan O’Dell

Brown:  What’s the most interesting piece of art you’ve seen, other than your own, of course?

O’Dell: Michelangelo’s “Pieta.” Actually, it is just a rock with some pieces missing, but, just the right pieces.

Brown:  How long does it take you to complete a piece of art?

O’Dell:   An artwork can take from 15 minutes for a figure drawing to a month or more for a painting.  “Cirque”, for example, took about two weeks.  A big factor is how fast and accurately one can draw.  Fortunately, I am pretty fast at drawing after 40+ years of practice.

Cirque by Stan O’Dell

Brown:  What are some small things that make your day better?

O’Dell:  Drawing.  A good movie.  Anything with sugar in it.

Brown:  What’s the best and worst piece of advice you’ve ever received?

O’Dell:  Best piece of art advice is to rub down your drawing or scrape down your painting so there is no detail left and start all over.  This came from the artist, Jere Allen.  Worst advice has been “Quit painting things that are beautiful, like women and flowers.  It has been done.”

Brown:  What three words best describe you?

O’Dell:  Curious. Energetic. Empathetic.

Brown:  Do you have a favorite quote?  What is it and why is it your favorite?

O’Dell:  “The problem with socialism is that you eventually run out of other people’s money.”  – Margaret Thatcher.  Socialism and its cousin, communism, have produced more human misery, poverty and death than any force since the plague in the fourteenth century.  As a psychologist, it baffles me why socialists cannot learn.

Brown:  What’s the hardest lesson you’ve learned?

O’Dell:  To accept criticism without being defensive or hostile.

Brown:  What’s the best and worst thing about getting older?

O’Dell:  Getting older means most of life’s challenges are behind you and you can focus on what is most important to you.  On the other hand, when one gets to about 70 years old, most people, especially younger people, dismiss you as someone irrelevant to their life.  You kind of become invisible.

Brown:  What’s your favorite way to waste time?

O’Dell:  Netflix.

Brown:  What has been your routine since retirement?  Do you have any hobbies?

O’Dell:  While a professor at Ole Miss, I spent a large amount of my time in the Art Department.  Most of the time was in the figure drawing classes. The main drawing and painting professor at that time was Jere Allen.  If anyone was my hero or mentor, it was he. I attended Jere’s figure drawing classes every semester for twenty years. After 27 years at the University, at the age of 52, I retired to pursue figurative art and photography full time. I spend as much time as I can every week on art and photography. My two websites, and show my work.  Both my art and photography have been displayed in national magazines.

Brown:  What remains on your bucket list?

O’Dell:  At the moment my bucket list consists entirely of scuba diving.  Prompted by my scuba diving brother, I agreed to go on an 11 day diving trip in Indonesia next month. That has required considerable time and effort to get certified and experienced enough to be ready for such a challenging adventure.  Just to get ready to carry as much as sixty pounds on my back and climb a ladder has inspired me to take up yoga, aerobic exercise, and weight work to strengthen my body.

Remaining on my list for the future is to keep my dear wife, Robin Street, as happy as possible.  She was born in Oxford, graduated from Ole Miss, and now is a Senior Instructor in Journalism. I owe her a lot of credit for her support of my art and photography.

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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