*Editor’s Note: The latest installment in the Ole Miss Retirees features is Becky Coyle. 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.
I have known this special lady for many years. She is as talented and smart as she is beautiful. Her smile welcomes you into her sphere and puts you at ease. She is kind and gracious and has a great Ole Miss story to share.
Brown: Where did you grow up? Describe your hometown and what was special about
Coyle: I was an Air Force “brat,” so I didn’t have a hometown, per se, because we moved about every three years. My closest thing to a hometown would be Monticello, Mississippi, where both of my grandmothers and my grandfather lived. When we were between moves or waiting to join daddy, we would go to Monticello and live with my maternal grandmother until daddy got settled and found a place for us.
Brown: Please talk about your childhood, family, siblings, crazy aunts and uncles.
Coyle: My childhood was ideal. My mother made sure that each move was an adventure and new friends were just waiting to be found. I have an older and a younger brother. I adored my older brother and thought he was really cool. He ignored me as many older brothers do. I adored my younger brother and tried to mother him. I read to him, taught him his ABCs, and we were close. I guess my childhood was nontraditional because we moved so much. I went to first and second grades in Columbus, Ohio. I attended the first half of third grade in Monticello. The second half of the third grade and all of the fourth and fifth grades were in Goose Bay, Labrador, in Canada. Sixth, seventh, eighth, and the first half of ninth grades were in Warner Robins, Georgia. Daddy retired from the military, and the second half of ninth, and the remainder of high school was in Clinton, Mississippi. Living in Goose Bay, Labrador was probably the most interesting of our moves. We landed in Goose Bay on Christmas Eve, and there was snow everywhere. I thought we had landed at the North Pole! When we got to our new home, there was a decorated Christmas tree with lots of presents. Santa miraculously found us, and we had a wonderful Christmas. Many years later, I learned that mom and dad could only take so many pounds of house goods with them on the plane—the rest to arrive later—and they took only Christmas presents for us kids! What an unselfish sacrifice they made so that we would have a wonderful Christmas. We weren’t around family much because most of our family was in Mississippi. However, vacations were spent whenever possible at my grandparents’ and all the crazy aunts, uncles, and cousins came to see us there.
Brown: What subjects were hardest for you in school?
Coyle: I always loved school and never really had trouble with any of my subjects. I especially liked English and math.
Brown: What is your earliest memory?
Coyle: I guess my earliest memory is when mother and daddy brought my baby brother home from the hospital; I would have been three and living in Oxford. And I’ve loved him ever since!
Brown: Tell us how/when your Ole Miss “story” began? Who hired you? How long did you work at Ole Miss?
Coyle: My first job at Ole Miss was as a secretary at Continuing Education in 1974. Maurice Inman hired me. I’ve worked on and off for Ole Miss for 20-plus years. Several places I have worked include the Law School, Theatre Department, Artist Series, the Foundation, the Ole Miss Women’s Council, and most recently, I tutored athletes, to name a few.
Brown: What did you know about Ole Miss before you accepted a position here? Describe your most memorable days at work.
Coyle: My father was a recruiter for the Air Force in Oxford when I was three years old. My baby brother was born here. While here my father took classes, and forever after, he was an Ole Miss fan. My older brother later graduated from Ole Miss. My favorite job at Ole Miss was tutoring student athletes because by then I was old enough to understand the importance of education for them beyond their athletic success. I spent about 4 hours a day working with such a variety of students. I mainly helped them with time management. People don’t realize the commitment each athlete has to his/her sport. Traditional students have hours to socialize and have fun while athletes must work out, attend team meetings, travel to and from games, and undergo physical therapy for injuries in addition to attending classes and doing homework. My job was to help them prepare for the week by outlining what would be necessary for them to be successful in the classroom that week. Together we would outline a strategy and meet later in the week to chart progress. I’ve worked with some wonderful kids who have gone on to have professional athletic careers.
It’s fun and rewarding to see their success.
Brown: You and your husband Arlen left Oxford then returned. Tell us about that chapter in your life.
Coyle: We left Oxford in 1985 and moved to Richmond, Virginia, where Arlen took a position as Chief Counsel for the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals. He loved working with bright, young attorneys and federal judges. I took a job as Head Secretary for an insurance adjustment firm. We loved our time in Richmond and for the most part, raised our three children there. However, when Norman Gillespie retired as Clerk of the Court here in Oxford, we were thrilled when Arlen got the job and we were able to return to Oxford. We always had plans to retire in Oxford so the timing of this opportunity was even better.
Brown: Please talk about your path to being invited to join Phi Beta Kappa.
Coyle: As you know, when you work for the University, you can take two classes per semester for free. From the time I became employed by the University, I took advantage of that very generous opportunity. Of course, that meant my education was very slow and even interrupted by the 12 years we lived in Richmond. However, I persisted! When I finally had enough credits to graduate in 2005 (at the age of 55!), I got a letter notifying me that my GPA qualified me as a Phi Beta Kappa candidate. I was invited to a meeting, and I didn’t even tell my husband because I thought once I got to the meeting and they realized that I wasn’t a “traditional” student, the offer would be withdrawn. I attended the meeting anyway and was pleasantly surprised that I qualified. When I got home and told my husband, he was so proud of me. I must mention that I could not have done it without him. During this time, I was also working full time, taking care of my elderly parents, and had a high school student at home. Arlen was very supportive and allowed me time to study.
Brown: What are the most useful skills you have?
Coyle: My two most useful skills I have been typing and sewing. Typing because I could always find a job wherever I lived and sewing because it gives me something to do in retirement that I love.
Brown: What accomplishment are you most proud of?
Coyle: Besides raising three wonderful, productive children who are all educated, I’m most proud of the Phi Beta Kappa membership. My college degree is something I wanted so badly, and being rewarded with the highest academic honor was just icing on the cake.
Brown: I know you quilt beautiful quilts. Do you have other creative outlets?
Coyle: I love flowers, and working in the yard provides another creative outlet.
Brown: What is the best part of your day?
Coyle: I am retired, and the whole day is great! I enjoy sewing and listening to podcasts.
Brown: Do you have a favorite quote? Why is it a favorite?
Coyle: I have several from Eleanor Roosevelt:
“You wouldn’t worry so much about what others think of you if you realized how seldom they do.” Important because I think we often don’t do something we should because we are afraid of what someone else might think when honestly most people are too busy with their own lives to worry about ours.
“Great minds discuss ideas; average minds discuss events; small minds discuss people.”
An important reminder of how small-minded it is to gossip.
Brown: What is the best advice you ever received?
Coyle: Be kind to everyone. This from my mother.
Brown: Talk about something that always cheers you up when you think about it.
Coyle: My grandchildren. I have photos of them that are especially funny, but they are just so fun and full of life. I love watching them grow up.
Brown: What are some of the events in your life that made you who you are?
Coyle: Moving so much taught me to enjoy the friends that I have and to make friends easily. Living much of my adult life without an education taught me its value. Having a bad first marriage taught me to appreciate a really good one.
Brown: An epic feast is held in your honor, what’s on the table?
Coyle: Are you asking my favorite foods? If so, scallops, crabs, fried catfish, mashed potatoes, great salad, with lots of ice cream for dessert!
Brown: What do you do to improve your mood when you are in a bad mood?
Coyle: I am rarely in a bad mood. I guess if ever I were, I would listen to my 3-year-old grandson recite his part in the Christmas play. He is now 10, but I have it recorded and I play it often and he melts my heart.
Brown: Tell us something about yourself that not many people may know.
Coyle: I taught a grown man to read and helped a woman receive her high school diploma, go to massage therapy school, and set up practice here in Oxford. I am so happy for both of them, and we remain friends.
Brown: I know you are an animal lover. What other things are you passionate about?
Coyle: Literacy, quilting, gardening
Brown: What has become your routine since you retired?
Coyle: Wake up early, walk the dogs, feed hubby and me, sew, lunch, rest, sew some more or gardening, dinner, watch the news, walk dogs, go to bed late. Boring, huh? I also go to lunch with friends, attend Ole Miss sporting events and go to movies with friends.
Brown: What’s left on your bucket list?
Coyle: I’m pretty satisfied with my life.
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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