Retiring President Muse’s legacy honored

by | Apr 15, 2020 | Foundation

More than 900 friends and family gathered on Feb. 20 to celebrate the legacy of retiring Hinds President Dr. Clyde Muse. His 68 years of public service to Mississippi education, including 42 years to Hinds Community College from which he is retiring on June 30 is beyond impressive.

The luncheon program replete with fond remembrances of a warm, personal leader exuded the atmosphere of a family reunion. Guests came from throughout Mississippi and a number of other states – Texas, Arkansas, Kentucky, Georgia, New Hampshire and Washington, D.C., to name a few – to attend the special event. All shared a common bond consisting of genuine love, respect and admiration for a man who has given so much.

The auditorium of the Clyde Muse Center on the Rankin Campus was adorned with elegant décor with special touches of purple, the favorite color of the late Vashti Underwood Muse. The on-stage screen was framed with purple luminous lighting. The unique table centerpieces were arrangements of vegetables – squash, eggplant, carrots as a nod to Dr. Muse’s passion for gardening ­– along with daisies and purple roses. Following the example of “generous giving” demonstrated by Dr. Muse throughout his lifetime, the assortment of produce was donated to a local charity to be shared with those in need.

Ted Kendall III was a member of the Hinds Board of Trustees who was instrumental in recruiting Dr. Clyde Muse to become president of Hinds in 1978.

Sister Dorothea, St. Dominic Hospital and St. Dominic Health Services, visited with her long-time friend, Clyde Muse.

As guests entered, they were entertained by a presentation including an array of photographs of Dr. Muse from his early days and throughout his career. Whether posing with students, family, friends or dignitaries — or riding on his tractor — his warm smile always radiated his pure joy for life. A collection of Christian and gospel hymns played lightly in the background.

In special tributes, he was lauded by some of the state’s top leaders as a visionary who set the standard for creating innovative ways to serve the college’s many communities. Over and over, each one remarked on his talent for gentle, but persistent persuasian on behalf of Mississippi education and students – not just for Hinds Community College, but all the community colleges in Mississippi.

The heart of the extraordinary program was a powerful tribute by all nine living governors and lieutenant governors, who recalled not only Dr. Muse’s influence on them as individuals but also the impact he had on education policy in the halls of the state Capitol. They talked of how his gentle demeanor, soft-spoken words and clear focus on what was best for students made an impression on them as public servants.

Eight were included in a video shown at the program: current Gov. Tate Reeves, current Lt. Gov. Delbert Hosemann, former governors Phil Bryant (1975), Haley Barbour, Ronnie Musgrove and Ray Mabus and former lieutenant governors Amy Tuck and Eddie Briggs. A letter from former Gov. William Winter, who turned 97 the same week, was read by Dr. David Cole, retired president of Itawamba Community College who coined the term “The Godfather” to describe Dr. Muse. U.S. Sen. Roger Wicker, whose family has known the Muse family for many years, also sent a video tribute.

Dr. William Lewis, retired president of Pearl River Community College, reflected on the life of the “longest serving community college president in the history of our state, 42 years, and longest serving member of the Mississippi state retirement system, 68 years.

“I can say from my own personal viewpoint that I have never experienced another leader with the talents, vision and servant’s heart that I find in my friend Clyde Muse. He is a leader for the generations, and his impact on all of education has truly made a difference in the people of our state. His influence has been enormous and his impact unmatched,” Lewis said.

Dr. Bill Muse, brother of Dr. Clyde Muse and the retired president of Auburn University, wiped away a tear as he held his flickering candle.

Cole remembered his time as a K-12 school superintendent leading lobbying efforts at the Capitol. He saw how legislators flocked to Dr. Muse. “I noticed this tall, distinguished gentleman that legislators would gravitate to while I was standing in the corner feeling like a pair of brown shoes on a black tuxedo. I noticed when it was time to go to lunch there was a large entourage that would go to lunch with him. And I’m thinking, ‘This guy’s got something going,’” he said.

Paul Breazeale, president of the Hinds Board of Trustees, presented Dr. Muse with a medal designating him as President Emeritus. As a gift from the Board, Breazeale presented Dr. Muse with a framed presidential medallion. He recalled his first meeting with Dr. Muse after coming onto the board. They talked for an hour and, at the end, he asked Dr. Muse to sum up.

“He kind of reached up and rubbed his chin like he always does. He looked at me and he said, ‘Paul, here it is. Around here we always put the students first.’ That’s been the thing that’s guided me since I’ve been associated with Clyde Muse,” Breazeale said. “He has done more for Mississippians than any other person I know.”

Dr. David Cole read a letter from former Gov. William Winter, a long-time friend of Dr. Muse’s who was unable to be at the event.

Irl Dean Rhodes (1957), chairman of the Hinds Community College Foundation who co-chaired the fundraising committee with Breazeale, noted that the Muse Legacy Endowment has been established within the Hinds Community College Foundation, created by Dr. Muse soon after he became president in 1978. More than $200,000 was raised toward the $250,000 goal.

“This endowment will ensure that the legacy of Dr. Muse continues,” he said. “What a great way to honor him, continue his legacy of service and help carry on his name.” The Muse Legacy Endowment will go toward funding projects that are especially dear to Dr. Muse’s heart – assisting students who need a second chance and supporting community service organizations that have a mission-driven focused on educational endeavors or those in need.

Jackie Granberry, executive director of the Hinds Community College Foundation, emceed the program, a fundraiser for the Muse Legacy Endowment. Granberry said the Celebrating the Muse Legacy program was intended to honor “a legend – a gentle man who shows love and respect to all, to showcase achievements of one of the state’s most visionary educators and to celebrate the life of a public servant spanning 90 years.”

For all in attendance it was a day filled with love, laughter, joy and a sprinkling of tears. Yet even in the midst of his special moment, Dr. Muse once again demonstrated his humble spirit and offered words of inspiration. “I don’t know if I can talk after all the beautiful things that have been said about me,” Dr. Muse said near the end of the program. “I know they are not all true. But I appreciate them anyway. It’s a very special day for me, one that I will cherish all my life.”

The son of a sharecropper and preacher, Dr. Muse used his brief remarks to tell the well-known parable of the Good Samaritan from the Gospel of Luke. “You know that’s a wonderful example for all of us. We need to look for the hurt. When we see a need, we should step in to help. The way to be the greatest is to serve the least.” he said. “I clearly remember not having anything, but I had a desire. And I’ve never forgotten that feeling.”

In the final moments of the program, called “Flickers of Light,” individuals representing different eras of his life reflected on their personal stories of the light he brought to their lives — from his first days as a teacher and coach at Canton High School, to Starkville schools principal and assistant superintendent, to Hinds County and Meridian schools superintendent and finally to Hinds Community College president. Each and every personal testimony validated that the qualities Dr. Muse possesses are those he has emulated from the beginning. Even as a first year coach, making $2,400 a year, he and Mrs. Muse would wash laundry for players and make sure that they had something to eat.

Dr. Thomas Fraschillo, retired Meridian High School band director, front from left; Johnny Plummer, athlete under Coach Clyde Muse at Canton High School; Reggie Harris, Hinds recruiting coordinator who was heavily influenced by Dr. and Mrs. Muse; back, Thomas Wasson, retired vice president who was a student at Starkville High School when Dr. Muse was principal; Dr. Jackie Wofford, who played basketball at Starkville High School under Coach Muse on the 1961 state championship team and John Heiden, retired insurance executive who was a member of the Hinds County School Board that hired Dr. Muse as superintendent. Heiden died on March 7.

Among those was Reggie Harris (1987), recruiting coordinator for Hinds. “When I graduated from Vicksburg High School and accepted a scholarship to play football at Hinds, I had no idea my life would be profoundly impacted by you and an outstanding reading instructor, Mrs. (Vashti) Muse. Had it not been for you and your wife, I would not be where I am today. I speak for many students who were just like me,” Harris said. “Dr. Muse, with your servant’s heart, you have saved many and given them a second chance to succeed in life.”

In a powerful and emotional end to the tribute, Dr. Muse paused in front of the more than 900 attendees as they stood in the darkened auditorium holding battery-operated candles to symbolize the light he has shown on peoples’ lives. He waved farewell, turned and exited the auditorium. Each guest received a gift bag that contained a commemorative purple votive candle. Renee Cotton (1985), director of Community Relations, shared that the symbolic token is to serve as a reminder – each of us has the ability to make a difference. “A candle loses nothing by lighting another candle; let us strive to follow the life lessons learned from Dr. Muse,” she said.

Also included in the gift bag were memory cards on which guests were encouraged to write personal messages to Dr. Muse. “Like all great leaders, his impact will last long beyond his tenure,” Cotton said.