Alfred Hume was the first University of Mississippi chancellor to possess an earned doctorate, and he was perhaps one of the most dedicated to the university, devoting nearly 60 years of his life to the school.
A Tennessee native born in 1866, Dr. Hume began teaching mathematics and astronomy at The University of Mississippi immediately after he received his doctorate from Vanderbilt University. Besides serving two terms as chancellor, he was called upon three additional times to serve as acting chancellor.
Dr. Hume made many enduring contributions to the university. In 1927, he organized the graduate program into an administrative entity of its own. He started a significant building program, which included plans for the construction of Fulton Chapel, Bondurant Hall, the gymnasium, the high-school building, Lewis Hall, the School of Law, the cafeteria, six dormitories for men, one women’s dormitory, Hemingway Stadium and the Field House. Fraternities were allowed to reorganize. Most significantly, however, Hume is credited with preventing Governor Theodore G. Bilbo from moving the university to Jackson.
The following are Dr. Hume’s remarks upon the occasion of the unveiling of his portrait given to The University of Mississippi by his Mathematics students.
Homecoming, October 1, 1949.
Chancellor Williams, Judge Lyell, Dr. Bickerstaff:
Friends of the long, long ago, Friends of later days, Friends of today.
Were I to follow the promptings of my heart, were I to yield to the strong temptation that comes to me at this hour, I would make a speech of some length, beginning with Garland Lyell and going all the way down the line, calling the names, one by one, of these worthies who, during student days, gave abundant evidence of what they have since become. But, I must forbear.
There is a line of Holy Writ which says “Cast thy bread upon the waters, and thou shalt find it after many days.” If that is a promise or a prophecy, we are now witnessing its fulfillment; if a principle, here is its application. In my wildest dreams, I never could have imagined when hanging pictures on the walls of the old mathematics classroom that my own portrait would be presented to the University in the after day.
Ever since hearing of this movement, I have wondered what in the world I should say. Well, a speech that my mother taught me when a little boy (it was customary for boys to make speeches in school) is peculiarly appropriate on this occasion, in fact it fits in exactly as I approach the other end of life’s journey. These are the lines:
You’d scarce expect one of my age
To speak in public on the stage.
Don’t view me with a critic’s eye,
But pass my imperfections by.
Then, too, I quote other verses which have come to mind much more recently.
The sins of my life have been many,
The mistakes of my life have been more.
And I scarce can see for weeping,
But I enter the open door.
What open door? Why, the open door of your kind and generous hearts.
It has been truly said that words are utterly futile things for really great moments. This is a great moment in my life. And what shall I say? How can I convey to you something of the appreciation and gratitude which I feel? Possibly by reference to other great moments.
In 1890, fifty-nine years ago, there came to me a letter from Chancellor Edward Mayes, then Chancellor of the University of Mississippi, telling me that I had been elected Professor of Mathematics. That was a great moment.
A year passed by and one day during the following Christmas holidays, I heard the preacher say, “for better, for worse;” “in sickness and in health;” “until death do you part.” That was a great moment.
Two more years went by followed by spring and summer and then one autumn day we stood by the cradle where the first-born baby boy lay dying, and I heard the doctor say “I don’t think he’ll breathe any more.” That was a great moment, one of tragic sorrow.
Do you see what I mean when I say that this is a great moment? Have I made myself plain by putting it in the same class with other great moments, when the heart speaks, though the tongue is silent, lips are dumb?
Yes, words are futile things in the presence of great moments. Therefore, I can only say I thank you and thank you yet again and again. And may God bless you every one.