By Martha Hunter Shepard ’66
“I think it’s remarkable that anyone could remember something someone else said 40 years earlier,” says Bo Scarborough ’67, speaking of his long-ago mentors at Rhodes.
Yet he does. We all do. We can’t help it.
We can quote verbatim what our Rhodes mentors said 10, 25, 50 years ago. Just read the Class Notes from 1949, 1958 and 1959—who knew back then that total recall would be part of the curriculum?
Yet it’s our fate, and a kind one, too, that those Rhodes mentors—professors, coaches, siblings, friends—knew and cared as much as they did to open up for their students new universes of thought, word and deed that would last a lifetime.
Sid Strickland ’68
Vice President for Educational Affairs and Dean of Graduate and Postgraduate Students at New York City’s Rockefeller University; Research professor; Director of Rockefeller University’s Laboratory of Neurobiology and Genetics
New York City
Carol Colclough Strickland ’68
New York City
Like many alums, Sid Strickland had several mentors. His sister, Priscilla ’63, was his first.
“When she was studying Biology at Rhodes, it was in the absolute midst of the molecular biology revolution,” says Sid, referring to the explosion of research surrounding the DNA genetic code. “She would come home and tell me about the experiments they were doing and it was very exciting.”
But like DNA’s double helix, Sid’s path to a Rhodes Chemistry major and Ph.D. in Biochemistry from the University of Michigan had some twists. Namely, he set out to be a Math major.
“A very important person in my career was Math Professor John Christy,” he recalls. “At the beginning of my sophomore year he called me in and said, ‘You’re a very good applied mathematician.’ Implicit in that comment was that I was not a very good theoretical mathematician. He said there were a lot of sciences that use math that I might enjoy. So I switched my major to Chemistry and studied under Professor Richard Gilliom ’56. There was a huge math component in his classes, which I loved. But there was no formal biochemistry course, so I went to Dr. Harold Lyons, who gave me a tutorial in biochemistry. We read the book, Molecular Biology of the Gene, co-authored by James D. Watson, who was a co-discoverer of the structure of DNA. That was my real introduction to the field.”
By his senior year, Sid wanted more. So he went knocking on doors at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, asking anyone who would listen if he could work there. Dr. Martin Morrison, chairman of biochemistry at St. Jude, let him in, helping him “get my feet wet in experimental biochemistry.”
Today in his lab, Sid heads a 15-member team of international researchers whose cutting-edge studies include causes of Alzheimer’s disease and stroke, and the use of stem cells to treat nerve defects.
At Rhodes, though, it wasn’t all microbiology, all the time.
“The Man (Search) course was a very big influence on me,” Sid says. “I still think about it. I read things that I would never have read otherwise. And the humanities professor who infl uenced me the most—I know this is a common answer—was Jack Farris in English. I can still quote things he said in class.”
His wife, English major Carol Strickland, agrees.
“If I could tell a story like Jack Farris, I’d feel I could really enrapture my audience, because that’s what he did.”
Carol is a best-selling author of books that demystify art, architecture and art history—The Annotated Arch, The Illustrated Timeline of Western Literature and The Annotated Mona Lisa. She has written documentaries and prize-winning screenplays. A regular writer on the arts for the Christian Science Monitor, she is currently writing a historical novel about sixth-century Byzantine Empress Theodora.
“The most influential professor to me in terms of content and my future direction was Danforth Ross, who taught American Studies,” says Carol, who went on to get a Ph.D. in American Culture from the University of Michigan and taught American Studies, creative writing and literature at several New York-area colleges and universities.
In addition to Dr. Ross, she offers a litany of Rhodes English Department mentors.
“For instilling discipline and scholarship I had great professors—Robert Cooper, Yerger Clifton, John Quincy Wolf, James McQuiston. I had my fi rst basic literature class from Professor McQuiston, and when I wrote The Illustrated Timeline of Western Literature, I wished I still had my notebook from that course.”
As teachers, Sid and Carol also draw from their Rhodes experiences.
“I think we both have a Socratic method of teaching that we learned at Rhodes,” says Carol, “where you don’t preach at students—teaching not as a didactic exercise—but you try to bring it out of the students to make them come up with the insights themselves so they have a sense of discovery and master critical thinking.”
John Churchill ’71
Secretary and CEO, The Phi Beta Kappa Society
The motto of Phi Beta Kappa, the nation’s oldest academic honor society, is “love of learning is the guide of life.” A fitting credo for any scholar, especially John Churchill, who heads the nation’s oldest and most prestigious academic honor society.
Churchill once said, “When I came to Rhodes as a student, I fell absolutely and deeply in love with the whole liberal arts idea and wanted nothing more than to spend my life on a college campus.” The philosophy major, Lynx linebacker, track star, Phi Beta Kappa, Yale Ph.D., Rhodes Scholar and Lynx Athletics Hall of Famer got his wish at Hendrix College, where he held teaching and top administrative posts for 24 years before being tapped to head the Phi Beta Kappa Society in 2001.
Since then, Churchill has overseen various PBK initiatives—two quarterly publications, lectureships, scholarships, fellowships and several awards and programs. He still is able to spend part of his life on college campuses, traveling extensively to visit PBK chapters and working with other institutions with similar goals to advance the liberal arts and sciences.
From his first day as a Rhodes freshman, the liberal arts-loving Churchill found mentors all over campus. In Philosophy, they were Professors Larry Lacy ’59, Jim Jobes and Bob Llewellyn, with whom he has maintained “lifelong professional and personal friendships.” Under their tutelage, Churchill chose as his area of expertise the thought of 20th-century philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein.
“Of course, I took a lot of German in addition to other courses,” he says. “I studied under Gernot Dworschak and Horst Dinkelacker. In my senior year there were many independent study options, so I was able to design a lot of my own curriculum. In one of those courses, I translated Nietzsche’s Also sprach Zarathustra from German to English under Professor Alvin Overbeck.”
Another class he enjoyed was a reading course of Dostoyevsky and Kafka. In Religious Studies, he greatly admired Michael McLain, and during Churchill’s sophomore year, English professor Jack Farris’ Modern Novel class was a particular favorite, along with the get-togethers for the football team Farris and his wife, Anna, hosted.
Open to mentors one and all, Churchill found them on the athletic field as well.
“In football, Jesse Johnson coached my first two years, then Don Lear. Bill Mayo was the line coach, and in track, it was Freeman Marr ’48,” says Churchill.
Coach Lear once said, “John Churchill was the smartest football player I ever coached. He would know the scouting report inside out. He was like having a coach on the field.”
In addition to his affinity for the game, Churchill found the chance to “get to know—and respect” his teammates, and he’s still in contact with many Rhodes classmates.
“As a student,” he says, “it felt like doors were swung open. Professors were always there, offering guidance, suggestions, orientation. That is characteristic of the very best colleges. It takes a certain culture and tradition for that to happen, like that of Rhodes.
“Last year I led a weeklong seminar for college and university presidents for the American Academic Leadership Institute of Washington, DC. As I prepared for it, I found it was very much like the Man/Search course in nature, and my Rhodes experience was very much in mind.”
That Rhodes experience, he says, “was a rich one that has served me well.”
Johnny Moore ’88
President and CEO, SunTrust Bank
Like John Churchill, Rhodes Trustee Johnny Moore found his Rhodes mentors in coaches and faculty alike. Then-football coach Mike Clary ’77, now athletic director, recruited Moore.
“Mike Clary is the reason I came to Rhodes,” he says. “I was looking to play at UT, Memphis State or Ole Miss. But I’d hurt my knee, and if Mike hadn’t come to visit me while I was at Melrose High School, I probably wouldn’t have set foot on the Rhodes campus.”
It didn’t stop there. Once Clary got the future Rhodes Athletics Hall of Famer and Business Administration major to campus, Moore found an academic mentor who took that role very seriously. It was legendary Professor Sue Legge, who prided herself on placing her students with the then-Big Eight accounting firms, not to mention the high ratio of her students who were successful in passing all four parts of the CPA exam in the first sitting. Johnny Moore was one of her many students who fit that scenario.
“As a student, my intent was to major in Business Administration,” says Moore. “I didn’t know exactly what I wanted to do in the business arena, but I thought it would afford me the best opportunity for developing a successful career. Then I met Sue Legge.
“I took my first accounting class and did pretty well in it,” says Moore. “Sue encouraged me to stay in accounting. I agreed, as long as I continued to make good grades. She became my adviser, counseling me to take all the accounting courses I could, even during third term, when students took ‘lighter’ courses. I really must have loved accounting to give up that third term!
“At the time, though, there weren’t a lot of African Americans in the Big Eight accounting firms. So I said to Sue, ‘Let’s be realistic. There aren’t a lot of guys like me there. How open are they going to be for me to join one of those firms? I don’t want to make such a large commitment and expend all this energy on accounting if I’m not going to have a shot.’
“To her credit, she reached out to them, asking something like, ‘I have this student here who’s pretty good, and if he makes his grades, will he have an opportunity?’”
The next thing Moore knew, he was working at Ernst & Young. Shortly after joining the firm, he successfully completed the CPA exam.
“When I passed all four parts of the CPA exam on the first try, it was one of the happiest days of my life to go back to Sue Legge and show her my grades. This was my present to her for the interest she took in me as person. She went out of her way to help me, and that’s something I will never forget.”
Later, as a senior accountant at Ernst & Young, he ran some of National Bank of Commerce’s (now SunTrust Bank) audits.
“I was on track to be a manager, but the bank convinced me to leave,” he says.
He stayed with the bank for 17 years, mostly heading the Memphis region’s commercial line of business before being tapped as president in 2009.
Moore is quick to cite Economics Professors Wasfy Iskander and Chuck Orvis as having been “very instrumental in my studies and career.” Yet Sue Legge, he says, “was more than an adviser. We became really close. We made a commitment to each other, and I worked like crazy to make my grades.”
The two still talk regularly, and Moore keeps up with Mike Clary.
“That’s the beauty of Rhodes,” says Moore. “Because it’s a small college you can really connect with professors who can have an impact on your life both academically and professionally. And that connection is something you can’t put a price tag on.”
Charles M. Agee III ’99
Founder & COO, Augusta Capital
Madison Moore Agee ’99
Marketing Communications Manager, Kroll
“I was one of those Economics students who was a Ben Bolch disciple. There was a group of us who hung on every word he said,” Charles Agee says.
However, he was to fi nd that mentors come in many forms, including Rhodes Board of Trustees chairman Bill Michaelcheck ’69.
As a student, Charles came up with the idea of forming Augusta Capital, a fi nancial fi rm that is a capital provider to accomplished law fi rms that have signifi cant contingency fee litigation practices. Unlike a bank, Augusta only recoups its investment if and when the law fi rms actually win their cases. Thus, Augusta’s clients enjoy relief from the fi nancial burdens that accompany contingency fee litigation without the pressures associated with traditional debt financing.
“In a nutshell, that’s what Augusta does,” he says. “We realized that it’s hard for litigators to focus 100 percent on client advocacy when they also have looming loan obligations—it’s a win-win situation for everyone. Augusta’s business model has evolved quite a bit from its inception, but it’s actually a concept that had its origin at Rhodes.”
After Charles’s junior year, Finance Professor Debbie Pittman ’71 arranged a summer internship for him at Bear Stearns in New York City, “down the street” from Michaelcheck’s Mariner Investment Group office.
“Bill and I knew each other—we grew up in the same part of West Tennessee—and we kept in touch throughout college,” Charles says. “That summer in New York, I was thinking about the viability of this business model, and after hours I would just kind of run up and down Park Avenue from my internship at Bear Stearns to Bill’s offi ce and pick his brain. I guess it was something he thought enough of that he gave me a lot of good advice and even helped me get started.”
Charles founded Augusta Capital his senior year, keeping it in Memphis for a few years before moving it to Nashville. Part of the idea for the company came from his father’s experiences.
“My dad is a lawyer in a small-town practice where he does a little bit of everything, but what he really likes to do is litigate,” Charles explains. “He’s a born courtroom lawyer, which is where he spends most of his time. So, while I was growing up I gained an understanding of the pressures and issues someone in his profession deals with. Also, some of the Economics and Business courses I took at Rhodes, plus my general interest in the financial industry—all those factors fed into the development of Augusta’s business model.”
Augusta Capital is “pretty unique,” according to Charles. “There is a small industry we’ve helped to create that offers a variety of fi nancial products to the legal industry, but there’s just a handful of fi rms like ours with a national footprint.”
Charles’s wife, Latin American Studies major Madison Moore Agee, likewise found mentors in her area of study.
“My No. 1 mentor was Mike LaRosa,” a History professor who co-founded the Latin American Studies program. “I feel like we navigated Rhodes together. He started at the college my fi rst year. Mike’s wheels were always turning. He was always thinking of ways to get his students out of our comfort zone. I took a class from him almost every semester, and he ended up being my adviser. We stay in touch and try to talk as much as possible.
“I also enjoyed taking Spanish classes from Eric Henager ’89. He opened the whole world of Spanish American literature to me. He was very demanding, but at the time I appreciated having so much asked of me because it made me step up my game.”
Along the way, Madison also developed her writing skills that she would later parlay into positions in the communications field. In her current position she creates and edits the vast majority of company literature for the Nashville-based Background Screening division of Kroll, the global risk consulting company headquartered in New York.
“My major was certainly different from what I do now, but Rhodes truly helped prepare me to write and communicate well,” she says. “It’s amazing how marketable that one skill is in the business world—most people can’t write as well as a Rhodes graduate. My college experiences also encouraged me to be curious, be brave and ask questions. At Rhodes, I never felt uncomfortable challenging a professor, and I’m still peppering senior leadership with questions today.”
After graduation, and with the best intentions of going to graduate school, Madison moved to Austin, where she began working in what she thought was a temporary assignment for American Campus Communities, a real estate company that specializes in building housing for colleges and universities.
“I started off answering phones and doing some secretarial and assistant work,” she says. “It was a small company then—fewer than 15 people—and they needed some help with their proposals and business development activity. I said, ‘You know, let me have a shot at this.’ They gave me one project, and I guess I did a pretty good job because I very rapidly went from being a receptionist to manager of on-campus business development. It’s a testament to being in the right place at the right time with the right skill sets.”
Still, grad school beckoned. She moved to Nashville to pursue her longed-for master’s in Latin American Studies as a fellowship student at Vanderbilt. The move also allowed Madison and Charles, who was already ensconced in the state capital, to fi nally be together after a three-year, long-distance relationship.
“Madison and I knew each other at Rhodes, but started our courtship about a year after we graduated,” says Charles. “Just to make it extra diffi cult, we lived in different cities. We burned up our Southwest frequent flyer miles.”
The couple has a two-year-old son named Charlie, who they’re “already subliminally pushing toward a Rhodes education by often dressing him in a college- branded sweatshirt,” says Madison.
Like John Churchill, both Charles and Madison say they can’t think of a course at Rhodes they didn’t enjoy. Charles recalls a Political Science class with Professor Steve Wirls where “everyone in the class was super interested in the material because he had a way of piquing people’s intellectual curiosity.” Madison particularly liked fi lm classes. “I took one my sophomore year, then tried to take one every semester,” she says. “I had always loved movies, but had never before thought of them as an academic endeavor.”
Says Charles, “Part of the Rhodes experience is that you’re immersed in an environment where students participate in classroom discussion and the professors make themselves available both inside and outside the classroom.”
A Rhodes education—it’s an unforgettable experience.