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Mississippi College Retirees Leave Lasting Legacies, Share Fond Memories of Christian University

Barbara Brown, left, director of development services, and Susan Lassiter, assistant professor of English, join 17 of their former colleagues as retirees who made a lasting impact on Mississippi College.
Barbara Brown, left, director of development services, and Susan Lassiter, assistant professor of English, join 17 of their former colleagues as retirees who made a lasting impact on Mississippi College.

Despite their widely divergent roles, Susan Lassiter and Barbara Brown share strikingly similar characteristics as retiring faculty and staff at Mississippi College.

They each grew up in Clinton, attended MC for a brief period, and made their marks in the retail industry before eventually finding their way back to MC. Blessed with engaging personalities, both are active members of First Baptist Church Clinton and have each helped build legacy programs at the Christian University that will doubtlessly survive them.

Lassiter, an assistant professor of English, and Brown, director of development services, were among almost 20 retiring MC faculty and staff members honored by Mississippi College President Blake Thompson at a private dinner April 23 at the Phillips House on campus. The event celebrated the retirees’ remarkable contributions to Mississippi College and recognized their rich catalog of achievements at the institution.

Another similarity shared by Lassiter and Brown? MC won’t be the same without them.

“Professor Lassiter leaves a laudable legacy of advocacy that will be sorely missed,” said Daniel White, assistant professor of English and philosophy at MC. “Susan has been our conscience for years. When working on any number of matters, she’d remind us to consider the voices – or absence – of women in our discussion and decision-making.”

“Barbara was often the first ‘face of MC’ that a new donor would see,” said Katrina Pace, executive director of the MC Foundation. “She did a phenomenal job introducing new donors to MC and maintaining and growing those relationships over the years.”

As a child, Lassiter developed a deep appreciation of detective fiction, treasuring each volume of the Nancy Drew Mystery Stories she received as birthday and Christmas presents. To this day, she keeps the yellow-spined books on the bottom shelf of her office bookcase.

She was studying English at the University of Southern Mississippi and working for a retailer in Clinton when she met her future husband, Larry, the brother of a coworker. He convinced her to transfer to MC for her senior year and complete her B.A. in English.

Lassiter’s retail experience helped land her a job with McRae’s Department Store in Jackson. She eventually became a corporate buyer, traveling to New York City every other week and rubbing elbows with internationally known designers like Perry Ellis and Calvin Klein. She found the fashion industry lifestyle wasn’t necessarily suited for raising a family, so she left McRae’s and returned to Clinton to pursue her Master’s in English.

Her return to a college campus reignited Lassiter’s passion for literature.

“Literature is supposed to bring us together,” she said. “Literature provides empathy to those who need it. Literature is actually a reflection of life.

“We read other people’s stories and we try to adapt them to something we either know or would like to know. Reading is the thing that makes us all better people.”

Upon completing her M.A., Lassiter joined the Mississippi College faculty as an instructor of English, sharing the myriad ways literature could enhance her students’ ability to think, learn, and grow. She was promoted to assistant professor in 2004. Her areas of specialization included American literature, short stories, the “Lost Generation” of expatriate American authors like Ernest Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald, and her first love – detective fiction.

“Susan loves American literature and has long been one of MC’s most in-demand professors,” said John Meadors, professor and chair of English and philosophy. “She is a faithful champion of the enduring value of studying great literature.

“She is an optimum faculty member and colleague. She is willing to help out with any project and always kind and gracious in her treatment of MC students and personnel.”

Her colleague, Kerri Jordan, said Lassiter embodies the spirit of the humanities.

“Within her courses and across her interactions with students and colleagues alike, Susan celebrates and complicates the human experience, how we shape and are shaped by love and compassion, loss and pain,” said Jordan, associate professor of English and philosophy at MC. “She leads students to explore universal themes in literature, helping students connect themselves with authors and characters across spaces and times.

“Her investment in the relational extends far beyond her classroom. Students seek her life advice and mentorship; colleagues campus-wide value her institutional memory and her ability to connect our community’s present and its past; and our department loves Susan for reminding us how to live in ways more deeply human.”

Meador said that throughout the course of her 35-year career, Lassiter crafted a reputation as the consummate example of gracious hospitality. She would play an important role in welcoming representatives from the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools committees and other dignitaries to campus and host dozens of social events for students in the Department of English. She also served as sponsor of the Kissimee women’s social tribe for many years.

She received numerous awards throughout her tenure at Mississippi College – including the 1992 Civitan Professor of the Year Award, the 2010 Alumni of the Year Award from the MC English Department, and the 2014 Teacher of the Year Award from the Mississippi Humanities Council – but two stand out above the others.

She helped establish the Carol West Faculty Advocate Award in honor of the late distinguished and beloved faculty member of the Mississippi College School of Law who was an expert in domestic relations, women’s issues, and criminal law. Lassiter received the award herself in 2014.

She also values the Mississippi Humanities Council Educator Award she received in 2018 for the prison to pipeline faculty program she dedicated much of her later years developing. After completing two courses taught on Wednesdays, participants in the Central Mississippi Correctional Facility receive six hours of credit that, upon successful completion of their sentence, can be transferred to a college or university.

Not only were the Nancy Drew books the source of her fascination with detective fiction and her desire to assist those in the criminal justice system, but they also factored into how she crafts her own unique short stories.

“In detective fiction, you’ve got to weigh who the characters are, what they are doing, and whether they are capable of committing a murder,” she said. “You have to make sure that the character who commits the crime could actually do it in the manner you describe. Most detectives have a sidekick because you often need an ‘assistant of lesser logic’ who will go out and do things rather than just mull over the case with the protagonist.

“Above everything else, you’ve got to be believable.”

The majority of Lassiter’s presentations at professional conferences have been on the subject. Her skill in the genre earned her the prestigious Earl Bargannier Award at the 2009 National Popular Culture/American Culture Association Conference in New Orleans.

When it comes to literature, Lassiter is definitely a doer – as a matter of fact, she helped build the City of Clinton’s new public library. And her baking skills – especially her hummingbird cakes and cookies – became legendary at Jennings Hall events.

In retirement, she plans to write, tend to her flower garden, and spend more time with her children: Her son, John Lassiter, his wife, Lindsey Box Lassiter, and their children, Jack, Oliva, and Ellis; and her daughter, Emily Lassiter Routh, her husband, Christopher Routh, and their son, John Routh. She may even find the time to read a book or two – detective fiction, of course.

Barbara Brown may not have had the longest Mississippi College tenure of this year’s retirees, but the director of development services says she “poured my whole heart into my work.”

One of the first students to have intensive business training at Clinton High School’s Vocational Center, she was hired to work in the office of a successful retail store at the old Jackson Mall. Shortly after Brown enrolled at Mississippi College, the store’s owner convinced her to leave the University and work in his office full-time.

“He said, ‘You already have a career. You can go very far in this business,’” Brown said. “So, I decided to try working full-time for a little while.”

That “little while” lasted years. After the retail opportunity had run its course, the longtime Clinton resident took a position in family health services at the Mississippi State Department of Health, which led to an opportunity in the Department of Family Medicine at the University of Mississippi Medical Center.

She left that post to raise her family. Sometime later, she began working for her neighbor’s insurance agency and obtained her insurance license. While gaining leadership and management experience, all the while she was making connections that would prove valuable in her next enterprise.

When a development position opened at Mississippi College, Cindy Hampton, a cherished friend and fellow member of First Baptist Clinton, convinced Brown to apply. Brown’s daughter, Anna, was a senior in high school, so she figured she would work five years while her daughter finished her undergraduate career in the nursing program at MC.

Before Brown knew it, her five-year plan had extended to 18 remarkable years.

Oddly enough, despite her proximity to Mississippi College, it never occurred to her that her next assignment would be at MC.

“I went to MC but didn’t graduate, so I thought there wouldn’t be a position there for me,” Brown said. “Everything I knew was centered at Mississippi College. I knew a lot of people here, but I always wanted to prove myself. That translated into a passion for what I did that took on a life of its own.”

She quickly advanced from gift receiver to advancement alumni coordinator to director of development services, excelling at each post as the University’s needs required. She worked closely with MC’s president and adeptly handled every task in the development office at various times.

Her favorite assignments involved organizing donor recognitions, establishing many of the signs and plaques now visible throughout the main campus, and working with the Department of Archives to pinpoint when donors’ relatives had attended or worked at Mississippi College.

The secrets to her success were the relationships she had forged with donors – many of whom are MC alumni.

“Building relationships seems to be something that I am good at,” she said. “I don’t think you can learn that anywhere. It’s just part of who I am.

“The first time I meet somebody, and as I work with them, my goal is to ask the right questions. Getting to know people who have a loyalty to Mississippi College, you find they want to be connected to MC, to be a part of the University. That’s important to them. If you’re not listening to them and you’re not asking them the right questions, you’re never going to know them and they may go away thinking you don’t care.”

“Barbara has demonstrated a years-long commitment to MC and to the work of the Development Office,” Pace said. “She forged strong relationships with donors over the years and worked diligently to serve MC. For years, she was the voice and face of the MC Development Office and her attention to detail in her work and her love of the alumni, donors, and friends of MC that she encountered was evident.

“Barbara was a great help to me as we moved to a larger development office, migrated to a new advancement software, and started new development initiatives. I am grateful for her knowledge and hard work. She was the backbone of the development operation and the engine of the advancement shop. Since her retirement, donors still call and ask about her and genuinely appreciate all that she did for them during her time at MC.”

The genuine care Brown showed donors was rooted in her philosophy that their engagement with the University was their finest gift.

“I realized from the start that when donors entrusted us with their money, it was an honor,” she said. “They could have given that money to a hundred different places, and it would all be worthwhile. To be good stewards of that money was of the utmost importance, and I always wanted them to feel that I knew that.

“Many times, I was the only representative of MC to speak to donors because they wanted it that way. In those cases, it was paramount to me that I keep in touch with them, let them know who received their scholarship, and what the value of it was.”

Her favorite achievement – the contribution she treasures most at Mississippi College – was helping an anonymous donor establish the Rhoda Royce Prayer Garden outside Alumni Hall.

“The donor came to me with a vision and the donor and I designed it,” she said. “I put in those large stones myself. I found a Bible verse and had it put on one of the stones. It was amazing.”

After leaving MC last fall, Brown has searched for her next project, her “retirement hobby.” She enjoys spending time with her family: father Will Lowery and his wife, Bobbie; daughter Anna Denton, her husband, John Denton, and their children, Jack and Archer; and son Anthony Brown, his wife, Jill Brown, their daughter, Taylor, and son, Emmett.

Brown still lives just three miles from Mississippi College’s main campus and expects to remain engaged in life at MC.

“I want to find a purpose,” she said. “I want to be useful. I have to be busy. I’m getting to know what it’s like to have friends, because with work and family all my life, I never really had much time for them.

“I still do a lot with my church and I know that I’ll find my way. It’s just going to take me a little time because I’m not used to this.”