I intended to write a tribute to a long-ago university chancellor who handled problems with dignity, typically responding with a twinkle in his eye, warmth in his countenance and a droll wit.
Were he still living, he would have chuckled at my misadventure in finding the definition of “droll.” Sure enough, it is a reference to the curious or unusual in ways that provoke amusement. This assumes, of course, that “droll” is spelled correctly.
Typing two “o’s” instead of two “l’s,” however, turns up the word “drool,” instead, and Dr. James M. Moudy — Texas Christian University chancellor from 1965-1979 — never drooled …
I thought of him the other day upon reading of the “brouhaha” at the University of Texas over threats and counter-threats concerning whether the school song (”The Eyes of Texas” sung to the tune of work related to the railroad) should remain in favor.
What would Dr. Moudy have done?
Smiling, he would likely have “drolled” something like, “Do we have a school song? Not many know the words if we do, but over the years, there has been much ‘tinkering’ with the TCU fight song.”
He might have waxed rhetorical in telling about how the university’s athletic teams came to be called “Horned Frogs.” Another sidetrack to avoid a direct response, he might have shared history of the fight song, which has been modified periodically for at least a century, including words like “rif, ram, bah, zoo, lickity, lickity, zoo, zoo.”
Maybe a “droll” observation by this recognized minister, scholar and educational leader might have included an expression of gratitude for notbeing president at Campbell University. “Defending ‘Horned Frogs’ as mascots for an institution in Texas might be easier than continually justifying ‘Fighting Camels’ in South Carolina,” he’d joke …
It’s hard to fathom why some memories are retained.
The title of a speech made by Dr. Moudy some 50 years ago to the Fort Worth Rotary Club remains lodged in my brain. He entitled his remarks, “What I Would Do if I Were a College President.”
Speaking drolly and purposefully, his audience smiled as he rolled on with an undeniable spirit that much was “right” with the world. Surely his tongue was might near rubbed raw, lodging so often in his cheeks, back in the day when some decisions were actually “slam dunks.”
I do remember his account of growing up in Greenville, TX.
When a second grader, his mother “encouraged” his taking private violin lessons. A reluctant student, he tracked mud into her house, knocked over a lamp and dropped her violin.”
With eyes glaring and patience expended, she warned, “James, if you don’t shape up this minute, I’m going to tell your folks you have definite promise.”
Back when, Dr. Moudy and his colleagues often made decisions that “went down without sugar.” These days, many weighty issues are more likely to be “taken under advisement.”
Then and now, controversy “follows the money,” and UT has plenty of it, not only from traditional revenues, but also from major funds established by the 1876 Texas Legislature. It created the “Permanent University Fund” (tax monies from more than two million oil and gas rich acres in West Texas) accrues largely to UT, but also to Texas A&M University.
Both universities should be able to make it until, well, the wells run dry …
Pressures at the top grow exponentially when both enrollments and budgets bulge.
My CEO experiences were at much smaller institutions (Western Texas College, Snyder, and Howard Payne University, Brownwood) where I sometimes was the person to decide if we’d shut down when the weather was really bad.
Finally, this: Seagraves, TX, Public Schools chose” the theme music from a 1951 movie, applying their own words to the popular tune for its school song. On Moonlight Bay was the movie; it starred lovely star Doris Day.
Life was simpler then …
Dr. Newbury is a long-time public speaker and university president who writes weekly. Email: email@example.com. Phone: 817-447-3872. Facebook: Don Newbury. Twitter: @donnewbury.