By M. Scott Morris/NEMS Daily Journal
OXFORD – The arts have been at the center of Sam and Mary Haskell’s lives, and now there’s a constant reminder of that connection at the University of Mississippi.
About 70 friends and well-wishers gathered at the Gertrude Castellow Ford Center for the Performing Arts on Friday to witness the dedication of the Sam and Mary Haskell Theatre.
“What a joy and a humbling – beyond words humbling – experience this is,” said Mary Donnelly Haskell, a singer, actress and former Miss Mississippi. She’s a 1981 alumna of Ole Miss.
Amory native Sam Haskell said his mother taught him to value the arts by taking him to operas, plays and concerts when he was a child.
“I believe she’s looking down here, and she sees the beautiful theater being named for us,” he said.
He left Ole Miss in 1977 and began working for William Morris Agency in Los Angeles, where he eventually became an executive vice president and worldwide head of television.
“I’ve always loved that title,” University Chancellor Dan Jones said. “I want worldwide in my title.”
As the Haskells’ careers developed, they kept their alma mater in mind. Robert Khayat, chancellor emeritus, said he first met them in the 1980s.
“They said, ‘We need a first- class performing arts center,’” Khayat recalled. “Every time I saw them after that, that subject came up.”
Jones said the Haskells have a history of devoting their time and talents to the university. Jones told the audience that not only have they given their own money, “they’ve asked you for yours, as well.”
The pair, who moved back to Oxford in 2010, co-chaired Ole Miss’ most recent capital campaign. In addition, Sam Haskell serves as chairman of the Ford Center’s advisory board. Mary Haskell has performed on the theater’s stage numerous times, and she mentors students.
Sam Haskell said education and sports are the “cake” at Ole Miss, but he’s grateful there’s always been a place for the arts, too.
“The arts are the icing on the cake,” he said. “The arts give it flavor. The arts give it style and flair.”