Thursday, March 19, 2009
Former Rust president dies after wreck
By SUE WATSON
Rust College and the greater community are mourning the passing of former college president W.A. McMillan.
The giant, who served as president for 26 years, died at Alliance HealthCare System following an automobile accident Saturday afternoon, March 14.
An 11 a.m. funeral service for McMillan will be held at the McMillan Multi-Purpose Center on the Rust College campus Saturday, March 21.
McMillan is credited with helping with continuous funding of the college during his tenure as president. This helped with the day-to-day operations of the college and provided for expanded facilities on the campus, including the construction of the Leontyne Price Library, several dormitories and a new technology and business building during the 1980s.
But more importantly, McMillan is responsible for the college obtaining its full accreditation and for mentoring many of its faculty, said Rep. Kelvin Buck. He was a beneficiary of McMillan’s oversight and care.
“The best thing I could say is Doc was like a father and the only true family I had in this area,” Buck said Monday as he helped McMillan’s family plan for memorial services. “Our relationship was deeper than just friendship.”
Buck was close to McMillan for 20 years and said the president’s work to get the college accredited was a more noteworthy achievement than his successful fund-raising for the college.
McMillan is also remembered for his personal mentoring of large numbers of individual faculty and staff, encouraging them to “move forward with their education and everything,” Buck said.
“He’s going to be greatly missed in this entire state,” the representative added.
McMillan’s tenure at the college was not always smooth sailing, Buck said. A student protest of housing conditions and academic programs in March 1977 caused the college to close down for three weeks with students signing a petition to oust the president. During that period the “A” building caught fire.
Buck said a small vocal group of students back then did not agree with McMillan’s policies.
“His policies were necessary and saved the school from closing like the one across the street (Mississippi Industrial College),” Buck said.
“The primary burden he had to carry at Rust College, however, was to raise money to keep the college open. He was on the road a lot and spent less time with his family.”
Buck said McMillan’s efforts in civil rights was legendary beginning with his use of his Boy Scout troop to integrate the public swimming pool in Marshall, Texas. After coming to Holly Springs, McMillan carried that fight on in Marshall County by pushing for local restaurants to serve blacks in the late 1960s and early 1970s, Buck said.
Dr. David Beckley, who took over as president of Rust College following McMillan’s retirement in 1993, said the ex-president’s death “is a great loss to Holly Springs, Rust College, the State of Mississippi, and the wider education community.”
“For more than 26 years, he served Rust College with great distinction as our 10th president,” Beckley said. “I met him in 1964 as a freshman when he served as academic dean at Rust College. He served as personal advisor, counselor and mentor throughout my educational and professional career.”
McMillan suggested Beckley think of college presidency as a career path.
“He aided me greatly in my first appointment as president of Wiley College in Marshall, Texas in 1987,” Beckley said. “It was a great honor when I was invited by the Rust Board of Trustees to succeed him as president in 1993.
“Dr. McMillan’s wise counsel and fatherly advice will be greatly missed, not just by me, but by all the faculty and staff who had an opportunity to work with him at Rust College.”
Dr. Paul Lampley, vice president for assessment at Rust College, echoed Beckley’s and Buck’s remarks.
“It can be simply said that Dr. McMillan was a chief promoter of academics, without a doubt,” he said. “There are miles and miles of individuals who have been impacted by him from the Boy Scouts to state representatives. I certainly wouldn’t be in the status I am without his encouragement. And those he helped have stayed close to him.”
Fannie Lampley, communications director at ICS Head Start, was one who flourished under McMillan’s administration.
“I was the first female dean of students under Dr. McMillan,” she said. “He’s just a wonderful gentleman.”
McMillan died of head trauma and internal injuries at Alliance Hospital at 5:55 p.m. Saturday, just over an hour after the 4:30 p.m. accident, according to coroner James Richard Anderson.
Police Chief Robert Pearson said McMillan was traveling east on Eddie Lee Smith Drive past the Humane Society animal shelter when he failed to make a stop at the intersection of Eddie Lee Smith Drive and Highway 7 North and collided with another vehicle. There were no passengers in the car with McMillan or in the other vehicle involved in the accident.
For more details on McMillan’s life, see the obituaries on page 2 of this issue.
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