Bonnie Brown: Q&A with former Supervisor of Graduate School Admissions, Sue Vaughn

*Editor’s Note: The latest installment in the Ole Miss Retirees features is former Supervisor of Graduate School Admissions, Sue Vaughn. 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’ve know Sue Vaughn for many years. Her smile and positive attitude is ever present. She was always making sure graduate students were tended to and doing everything to ensure they had a good Ole Miss experience. She has a great Ole Miss story.

Sue Vaughn.

Brown: Where did you grow up? Describe your home town and what was special about it.

Vaughn: I grew up in Baton Rouge and I suppose the first memory that comes to mind is that of a culture rich in French influence and being surrounded by a people who spoke French as well as English in their thick accents. It was a place of Mardi Gras instead of Spring Break, LSU football, the smell of shrimp and crab boils, crawfish etouffee, red beans and rice and sucking raw oysters off the half shell. It was walking to the corner to catch the city transit to school or downtown, afternoons of Buckskin Bill on WBRZ Channel 2, Zone 5 prior to zip codes and Parishes in place of Counties.

Brown: Please talk about your parents, siblings, crazy aunts and uncles.

Vaughn: There was my Uncle Mack, a portly man, whose sole purpose in life was to aggravate me and he usually did by swinging his large hips, pointing at me and singing, “Susie Q on the mountain top. She got shook and she flipped and she flopped. Ten thousand feet to drop” at every family gathering for no other reason than he knew it would irritate me. Possibly the worst was the time when, as a preschooler, the adults were trying to track down an odor in the living room and he asked if I’d smell his back side to see if he had passed gas, so I did. At every gathering after that it was always, “Hey! Remember that time Sue . . .” Never lived it down!

Brown: Tell us about your childhood.

Vaughn: I was sandwiched between two brothers, all of us one year apart in age. We played in the streets with neighborhood friends until Mom whistled us home at suppertime. When the mosquito truck drove down the street spewing its toxic, misty fog of insect spray, we played in it. The distant jingle of the ice cream truck sent us running as hard as we could back home to get a nickel from Mom so we could buy an ice cream. For extra money, we picked up soda bottles off the side of the road and cashed them in at the store on McClellan Drive behind our house. We walked to Mr. Smith’s grocery around the corner and down the street on those Saturday mornings when the bookmobile was parked in his lot. Summer afternoons were often spent riding our bicycles to Howell Park and swimming with friends, the same park where we all signed up for lessons and learned to swim. Other memories of my childhood are also filled with fishing trips, swimming in the Amite River (pronounced A-MEET) and outdoor gatherings whenever anyone on the block fired up a grill or had a croker sack of fresh oysters to share. The down side may have been the open sewers common at that time and my brothers forever falling in them because they couldn’t walk on the sidewalk like normal people and Vince, the neighborhood bully. But all in all, life was, well, life.

Brown: What’s your earliest memory?

Vaughn: Being raised by fun loving, often times immature adults and all, I’m inclined to believe our lives growing up may have been in some respects a little different than most, but it was what it was. We spent our spare time fishing the lakes and rivers or exploring the wilds around Baton Rouge with my dad and his two brothers. On one such venture through the brush with my dad and uncles, we came upon a small rill where the conundrum became “how do we get the kids across?” Although there was one child for each male adult (if you will), the decision was made, and all agreed, that Uncle Byron would jump across to the other side while, starting with me, Uncle Mack would grab my ankles and Dad my wrists so they could swing me across to Uncle Byron who, by that time, was on the other side waiting to catch me. As luck would have it, I didn’t make it to the other side into Uncle Byron’s waiting arms, but, instead, landed in the middle of the muddy rill. Even as a youngster, I had already figured one male adult could have easily held one child then jumped across to the other side, but that would have made too much sense.

Brown: Where did you go to school?

Vaughn: My first through sixth grade school years were spent at Brookstown Elementary and for grades seven through nine, I attended Prescott Junior High. My Dad was from Charleston and, still having family in this area, talked always about moving back to Northwest Mississippi. So the summer after I completed ninth grade, he did just that and moved us to Oxford. In the spring of 1967, I received my diploma from Oxford High. Although I didn’t receive an undergraduate degree during my tenure at Ole Miss, I did take advantage of the free tuition offered to all University of Mississippi employees and managed to successfully complete quite a number of credits while I worked there. The last series of courses I completed were those required to sit for the Real Estate Licensing exam.

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

Vaughn: I was a stay-at-home mom, and the summer that the younger of our two children was to begin school, I applied for employment at the University. I was interviewed for the position of Clerk Typist in the Graduate School’s Records Department in June of 1979 by Administrative Secretary, Mrs. Christine McElvaney, and Associate Dean of the Graduate School, Dr. Dale Abadie. After being called back for a second interview, I talked with Dean Joseph Sam and Records Supervisor, Mrs. Dorothy Atkinson. During my twenty-three years as an Ole Miss employee, I worked my way through the ranks, retiring in 2002 as Supervisor of Graduate School Admissions. Several years after my retirement, I returned to Ole Miss as a temporary employee, filling in for various departments while permanent employees were on sick leave or vacated positions were being advertised. My employment status changed from temporary to half-time retiree/rehire when, in 2011, I was asked to serve as Academic Advisor for the new General Studies program. As the new program grew, however, it became necessary for there to be a full-time advisor in place. I remained for a time with the new academic advisor, taking my final bow as an Ole Miss employee in the spring of 2015.

Graduate School Staff, 1999, with Vaughn pictured, arms crossed.

Brown: Describe your most memorable days at work—good and/or bad.

Vaughn: Registration was always a mad house and application deadlines were some of the worst times. There were some tough, grueling days, but I like to remember how we would laugh, share, and support each other. We didn’t always get along, but there was a genuine love and camaraderie there. There were goofy times, too. I recall one evening after working late and everyone else had gone home, a co-worker and I decided to switch all the furniture and accessories that we were able to move from the Associate Dean’s office and replace it with the furniture and accessories from my office. The plan was to arrive before he did the next morning to see his reaction while feigning ignorance about what might have happened. To this day, I have no idea how he knew what we had done because all the things were back where they belonged by the time we arrived at the office early the next morning and he was at his desk acting as if nothing had happened. Guess the joke was on us, but, dang, that was a lot of work for nothing!

Vaughn making bunny ears behind Dean Maurice Eftink while co-workers look on.

Brown: What are the most useful skills you have?

Vaughn: I would say organizing and prioritizing tasks and time management are among my strongest assets. I also do quite well with word composition.

Brown: What skills would you like to learn?

Vaughn: Although a broader knowledge of electronics and computer technology would be useful and learning to play a musical instrument might be fun, at this point in my life, I’m not sure if I’d actually be interested in taking a class to learn a new skill.

Brown: What are some skills that you think everyone should learn?

Vaughn: Basic life skills. I recall shop and woodworking classes for the guys and home economics for the girls being taught in school—courses that offered instruction in skills that affect our everyday lives. It seems that the scales have tipped with so much emphasis now being placed on higher education that the option of learning a trade has largely been overlooked.

Brown: I know you stay busy at home with projects. Tell us about these.

Vaughn: Although my husband, Harry, tends to the bulk of our 77 acre farm, I have four young chickens, numerous guineas and one duck to tend to as well as various flower beds around the house and yard. But my fondest weakness is repurposing treasures I find at resale shops. My most recent find was a suitcase sized wooden chest that I converted into a planter using a small stand I found at a resale shop in Huntsville while visiting with my daughter. Waiting in the wings to be converted or refinished are three other pieces I couldn’t pass up. Our kids caution me to stay out of the resale shops!

Re-purposed flea market find—from wooden chest to planter.

Brown: If there was something in your past you were able to do differently, what would that be?

Vaughn: My life has been a roller coaster filled with ups and downs, twists and turns, at times scary, other times fun and exciting. Every single moment, good or bad, is woven into the fabric of where I am. Being a believer of everything having a purpose, I accept my life’s journey as I continue to move forward, embracing the experiences of each new day. I tend not to focus so much on what’s in the rear-view mirror.

Brown: What’s the best part of your day?

Vaughn: I’m somewhat of a morning person. Now that I’m retired, I like to go out and walk with our dog Pat, a Blue Heeler, in the mornings while my first cup of coffee cools. She walks out to the barn with me and we turn the duck out of her pen for the day and then turn the guineas out of their coop and check to make sure all the birds have fresh water and feed. I generally begin to wind down as the day wears on.

Brown: What is the best advice you ever received?

Vaughn: My dad quit school in his junior year. He was very smart in his own right, but he seemed to be somewhat ashamed that he never finished school. He always stressed that we do our best and at least complete high school because that was important to him. That aside, the advice I try to live by is in the form of a quote by journalist Herbert Bayard Swope which is, “I cannot give you the formula for success, but I can give you the formula for failure, which is: Try to please everybody.”

Brown: Talk about something that always cheers you up when you think about it.

Vaughn: I love life and it would be impossible to name just one thing that makes me happy. When random memories cross my mind, the memories may be of my two children, my granddaughter and her late sister or my two great-grandsons — all have brought me such joy. I often think of friends, past and present, recalling the fun times we’ve shared; the vacations in recent years spent with my husband of over fifty years; pets I’ve owned, or the day-to-day life on our farm—the list could just go on and on.

Brown: What are some of the events in your life that made you who you are?

Vaughn: Considering my life to date, I’m not sure I could list just a few events. But I would have to say that after I started working at the University is when I began to really blossom and grow. It evolved into such a supportive, positive and accepting environment. I believe I discovered more of who I truly was while working there.

Brown: What do you do to improve your mood when you are in a bad mood?

Vaughn: Hahaha! I don’t know, just tuck and roll, I guess. It’ll pass.

Brown: What is your guilty pleasure? Time waster?

Vaughn: Going to the spa is a guilty pleasure of mine—that and shopping. I also enjoy listening to books on Audible. There are certain programs on television that I like and I can waste time binge watching “Chopped” or “Flea Market Flip.” Same with “Who The (Bleep) Did I Marry” on the ID Channel. Mostly, though I’m truly not a fan of mindlessly sitting in front of the television.

Brown: Tell us something about yourself that not many people know.

Vaughn: Most people are not aware that my dad had a nickname for me. The “Full Monty” was Susie Wah Doozie the Flat Foot Floozie with the Floy Floy (honestly, I don’t know and I never asked). He had a shorter, baby talk version and it was Tuddy Wah Duddy, but he usually just called me Tuddy. He talked often of buying a fishing boat and naming it the Tuddy Wah, but his dream of owning that boat never came to fruition.

Brown: What’s the best and worst part of getting older?

Vaughn: Although working outside the home was my social outlet and I genuinely loved it, the best part of being older may be that I don’t have to go out and join the work force now, nor does my personal life have to be planned around the ups and downs of busy times or the crunches of deadlines. My days have become slower and more relaxed, which is also the worst part of getting older because I’ve become slower, too. The stamina I once had has certainly diminished and I am not nearly as agile, but I’m still standing.

Brown: What has become of your routine since you retired?

Vaughn: After retiring from the University, I continued to work outside the home until four years ago. A house cleaning service I’d started some years prior to retiring from Ole Miss was thriving and I stayed busy with that. In addition, immediately after retiring from Ole Miss, I passed the real estate licensing exam and worked as a realtor for a number of years while continuing the house cleaning service. I gradually phased out the real estate venture after a local attorney contacted me and asked if I would help him. I worked as his secretary, off and on, for a dozen years or so. Eventually, I also agreed to help manage the old Oxford Mall for a property management company out of Nashville. I’ve always been high energy and employment at these various places afforded me the opportunity to gradually let go of outside work, eventually easing into full retirement, which worked out best for me as it wasn’t such a drastic or immediate change. I loved working outside the home and giving it all up definitely signaled a change, but my days are filled now with most things farm related and I’m enjoying that.

Vaughn with her husband’s buggy horse, Bonnie.

Brown: What’s left on your bucket list?

Vaughn: Jackson Hole, Wyoming! I enjoy vacations where the days can be spontaneous and this paradise—this nature lover’s dream–may be that perfect place. I would love to witness the stunning views of the landscape first hand, breathe in the crisp mountain air and enjoy as much as I can of what Jackson Hole and the surrounding area has to offer. There’s possibly any outdoor activity offered there that one could imagine.


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.

She can be reached at bbrown@olemiss.edu.

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