A Sense of Providence
By Daney Daniel Kepple
Photography by Robert Benson
At first glance, John P. Douglas ’48 and Graves C. Leggett don’t appear to have a great deal in common. Douglas, who is happily retired from a long career as vice president of Barretville Bank & Trust Co., spends his time reading, tutoring for the literacy council, playing bridge and participating in a Bible study group. Leggett, a former Barretville Bank real estate appraiser, says he’ll never stop working. “Paul told me I was the only person he ever knew who had no hobbies,” Leggett recalls. “I told him work is my hobby.”
Leggett was a longtime business associate of Barret’s who toured banking properties with him every week. The two always lunched together on Tuesdays. “Paul was not a big talker, but he would always answer questions,” he recalls. “I asked him one day what he wanted to happen to his money when he was gone. I was just making conversation. He was in good health, and I never dreamed I would outlive him. He said, ‘I want to remember Southwestern (now Rhodes College), my church and charity.’”Douglas was a lifetime friend and banking colleague who attended high school with Barret before the two were classmates at Rhodes.
Leggett is Baptist while Douglas is Presbyterian. The two share a firm conviction that funding a new library for Rhodes from the Paul Barret, Jr. Testamentary Trust was providential.
The trust stipulated that funds were to be distributed to nonprofits throughout Shelby County, TN. As trustees, the two were inundated with requests. Douglas said, “As I recall, the requests amounted to about $500 million.” The assets of the trust totaled $75 million.
Rhodes president William Troutt said, “Graves and John were very generous with their time. We met often and discussed a variety of possibilities. When I shared a rendering of a potential new library for Rhodes, it captured their attention and imagination as a possible memorial to their dear friend.” (See A Remarkable Story.) Those meetings occurred at the college, at Douglas’s home and, frequently, at Miss Sipp’s, a catfish restaurant in Millington. Troutt says, “I experienced the best catfish and the finest fellowship to be had in this part of the country.”
Leggett says that the idea of a library, “just struck me as so appealing. I think that was providence. I think Paul would be real proud if he could see what his money did at this college and all over the county.”
Douglas says, “We did the best we could to follow his instructions.”
“The project has been a lesson in persistence and patience,” says President Troutt. “It has also been a time to gain deep appreciation for Paul Barret, Jr. and the trustees. He was a wise man to entrust his legacy with these two friends.”