UPDATE: Emotional memorial honors beloved MSU leader Zacharias

By Patsy R. Brumfield / Daily Journal

12:25 POST
STARKVILLE – Dr. Donald Zacharias was remembered today as a brilliant, strong, loyal leader who made Mississippi State University a success today.
Speaking to a crowd of hundreds in the Student Union ballroom were current president Dr. Mark Keenum, other MSU leaders and Zacharias’ son, Eric, among others.
Zacharias, MSU’s 15th president, died Sunday after years of battling Multiple Sclerosis.
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(Below is a running account of today’s memorial in the Student Union ballroom. Please excuse the typos and other glitches likely as I type rapidly.)
10:46 – Sid Salter at the podium. Sets rules for media during the event. Let’s be respectful of the family during this. Asks audience to silence cell phones. At conclusion of service, with Alma Mater, allow family and special guests to enter reception area first.
(Loads of VIPs, friends and family. Hundreds inside the ballroom. Among them, retired Ole Miss Chancellor Robert C. Khayat, former Delta State and USM president Dr. Aubrey Lucas and ex-head football coach Jackie Sherrill, as well as legislators. Before the memorial began, an all-female string trio performed classical music. A large formally attired student choir assembled at the front right of the room.)
11:00 – Zacharias family enters. Dias speakers include Dr. Mark Keenum, John Grisham, five others. Video plays to present the story of his contributions to the university, his mark on MSU. In 1997, he resigned due to health concerns. In 2008, the university’s newest residential area was named for him. He also mentored students.
He died March 3.
Minister rises to podium for prayer. The Rev. J. Lee Winter, Episcopal Church of the Resurrection. (He sounds a little emotional in his prayer.)
Chorus performs. “Take My Hand, Precious Lord.” Can see them on the video screen, too.
11:11 – Dr. Keenum takes the podium to celebrate “the remarkable life of Dr. Donald Zacharias.” In 1985, I was young Extension specialist and doctoral student. Wasn’t part of university leadership then. Like everyone else, I knew that higher ed in MS was facing difficult financial crises. As search for its prez unfolded that summer, we needed a leader to rally behind. To see the value of our unversity and its importance to the state, persuade others to share it. Not expecting from someone born in Indiana, never associated with a landgrant unversity. How could he understand this place where many of us were born or raised? How convince others to love and support it.
September came, doubts swept away. Zacharias immersed himself. Fervent, committed proponent for HIS university. Winning over others, legislature, governor took longer Warm reception at capitol, but he was … a fierce advocate for MSU and MS higher ed. Over next three years, as I completed doctoral agree, I watched and admired and learned. Then I left to D.C with Cochran, largely because of President Donald Zacharias.
When we considered Cochran’s offer – he called me to his office, sat me down and explained to me what a wonderful offer and oportunity was presented, how good for my career. He looked me in the eye: Mark, this won’t only be good for you but for MSU. What do you do? I went home, told Rhonda we’re moving to D.C. Gave away out cat, paced UHaul and gone for 20 years.
He was right – confident made all the difference in my life, career. Will be forever grateful to him. Developed close working relationship with him. It paid off for MSU and other state universities. We created a model under which our state universities got increased levels of federally directed funding. Research reached new heights here under his presidency. Foundation of support helped bring us where we are today – able to compete with major research universities for funding.
That wouldn’t be the case if Dr. Zacharias hadn’t looked to the future what what MSU should nd could become. His counsel … when I left here, he told me, there will be a job waiting for you when you return. I never envisioned this job. When I returned as president four years ago, he gave me more advice. Think of it often: He passed along what his mentor told him at Indiana Univ. when he was to be West KY president. He told me he was told, to be a good prez, you had to have patience of Job, courage of David, wisdom of Solomon and the stomach of a billy goat. You will have to eat a lot of things, be prepared. Right again.
Gen. Lee prepared university for that time. When Dr. Z stepped down, he well positioned MSU for the 21st century. Dramatic growth – students, private dollars.
(Praised his wife, Mrs. Tommie. Thank you.)
Before he left office, he spoke at funeral of one of his vps, Ralph Powe. He said that day, in center aisle of St. Paul’s in London, an epitaph for Sir Christopher Wren, the architect. It says: If you seek his monument, look around. That’s what came to him as he remembered his departed friend and colleague. They apply to his own impact here – look around our campus. Note Zacharias Village, 1200 students, Honors College. We honor staff awards with his name. Other student awards and private giving recognition
No doubt he will be remembered for leadership and accomplishments. Thousands of students … benefited form his presence… outstanding careers.
Humble, patient loving man. Admonition of St. Paul to Church of Ephesus: Urge you to lvie a life worthy of the calling you receive. Be humble, be gentle, patient … in love. 11:22
GRISHAM – Thanks for allowing me to participate. Renee and I honored to be here.
I left here in 1977 with a degree in accounting, headed for law school for what I thought for long career as a tax lawyer. Thank God, that didn’t happen. I didn’t meet Don as a student. Know he is grateful for that. In 1986, in Legislature, he came to Capitol for funding. There was almost none. First impression, humility, patience, kindness. Thought he had no chance. They would eat him for lunch. At that time, several MSU grads there. Some with clout, some without. I was in second group. As rookie, managed to tick off the speaker. I had no assignments, no office. Would kill my bills before I filed them, wouldn’t recognize me on floor. My parking space was closer to Sun n Sands than Capitol. I told him I got nothing, Dr. Z. Said I’d help. He didn’t care.
When he came to town, we had long dinners. We’d talk about college baseball, higher ed, books. I’d just started first one. Re-elected in 87. He called. Speaker’s fight that year, I was in the middle of it. If my guy won, I’d be on Appropriations. He was excited. Too excited too fast. Didn’t work out. He said, come up for baseball game. WE kept having long dinners. Second term, looking at four years with nothing to do. So I started writing more and more. Third of A Time to Kill was written at Capitol, where wasting time is often rewarded Published in 1989.
Quick story – various versions. Renee says after so many years in fiction, it’s impossible for me to tell the truth. What happened with Time to Kill. In 1989, small publishing company and I was unknown. I was lawyer in Southaven. No money but more than my publisher. No money for promotion. I realized I could buy them wholesale $10 and sell retail $20. Shrewd thinking. I bought 1,000 of 5,000. Huge book party, was idea. Friends in my hometowns. Would be huge. Wondered if 1,000 was enough. Turns out it wasn’t. Big party, photos of my kids climbing on them.
When it was all over, I owned 882 copies. Lot of folks didn’t show up. Went to library, will you contact friends. Maybe unload more books. He said sure, called. July-Aug 1989 I hit the road. Did signings…. cited towns. 35 libraries and unloaded every copy, Wish I had them back. When tour got to Golden Triangle, signings set up. My wingman – Scott Ross from West Point. He knew everybody. WE talked to Dr. Z, read it, rave review. He was so excited. Said I could use party on campus.
Back then, hard to sell many books at a signing. Did Starkville, then MSU. Running late. I jumped out. Low expectations. Race into the room. Dr. Z with big smile and a packed house. Standing Room Only. I was stunned. Got impression – everybody had gotten the MEMO. (BIG LAUGH) Waited for Ross with books. I talked for a while, waiting for books. When I finished… stalling… by this time learned more difficult to sell them than to write them, book party attenders do so at gunpoint and avoid spending money, also lose crowd fast. But if Dr. Z was speaking, nobody would leave.
Dr. Z took money out of his pocket to buy the first one. We sold more than 50. My most successful signing. Asked him to make a library of his papers. Dr. Coleman said don’t throw away anything. A lawyer’s dream. I thought it was wonderful that they’d want all my papers. You’re going to get them. Started shipping stuff – been 24 years. I’ve been embarrassed some times.
A few years later, Dr. Z asked me to speak at commencement. I said I don’t want to do that, never spoken before 10,000… might be emotional. He said… just buck up and come do it. (LAUGH) You’re in the big leagues now. TELL TRUTH, make em laugh and keep it short, his advice. Started running out of library space and Dr. Z said he wanted to have Grisham Room. I said I don’t want to do it. Only been in there once, never hung out there as a student. Only to sell books (LAUGHS) He said it would mean a lot to university, students and to him personally. Know res of story.
Leaders such as university prez, CEOs, governors, generals – tend to kind of go, do their jobs, retire and fade away. Occasionally, a university prez will show up at the right time and leave a profound impact. He rallies school and takes it off on a bold, new direction. As long as this place is here, he will be cherished as a great leader and as a great person.

11:38 – ROY RUBY – former interim president.
Dr. Z said I will lead you, follow me. (Cites many projects completed as president, athletic accomplishments.) He was an accomplished speaker. .. He gave people new and better reasons to support Miss State. Courage to make hard decisions. Great because he loved and respected people. Connected with them. Strong and good prez for this university. More important, the kind of man he was. Dedicated father and husband. Important part of his life. Impeccable integrity. Never took for granted his many blessings. Great sense of humor… always present. Fair and considerate, kind to everybody. He was a good friend to many people. Gave more than he got.
Good fortune to work for Zacharias. great privilege to call him and Tommie 28 years they were in Starkville. Missed but legacy will live on. 11:42.
LEWIS MALLORY – Sunday, got a call from Tommie. Could tell by tone, it was not good. Of course, that Don had passed away. I wasn’t prepared for that. Had seen him shortly before, we’d had good visit on Sunday. Just wasn’t ready for her news. Tommie, Leslie, Allen and Eric you are in our thoughts… all of us… will be for many months and years.
Collecting my thoughts about him, lots of words. But to speak about some of his character. He loved his school dearly, proud to be his leader. Intellectual – he looked intellectual to me. He was an intellectual, I like that quality. Courage – tremendous, he knew what he was facing in the last years of his life. Great dignity. To be university prez too. See some before us, It’s tough, hard job. Dedicated – to MSU. Dignified – maintained throughout his prez and his life. Integrity – all successful leaders have that quality. Served him well. Hard worker and fighter – Grisham talked about that. He wouldn’t take no for an answer, if he believed in it.
Persistent for objectives. A friend – considered him that. Watched him grow and mature in prez. Watched what he did for MSU, state and entire region. Finally, Leader – transformative in many many ways. Saw the big picture for this institution. Understood the mission. Charted a course for many years to come. Winner – he was, successful in what he did.
(Talked about some experiences with Dr. Z) He understood importance of endowments. Committed to first capital campaign this institution had. Had a foundation but no major campaign. He led it, smart enough to ask Jim Ashford to lead it, CEO of Case Manufacturing. Determined to reach the goal. Raised $150 million – an enormous success for a MS institution.
Hosted dinner for Sen. John Stennis in his last years. In Washington. Had to hold in a huge place, great affair, MSU sponsored. That night, that may have been the happiest I ever saw him.
Always think of him on Joe-Jack story: Name of a boat, owned by gentleman who was an engineer through experience. Slidell, LA. man. Didn’t go to this institution. Friend through Dr. Z, very generous and sent his children here. Boat was old Coast Guard cutter. Sleep 17 people, we’d go out into the Gulf. Had a good day, cooked fish on deck, liquid material to help fish go down later in evening. Went into bunks. Got up about 1-2 a.m., light on, there was Don Zacharias had brief case out and he was working. I said what are you doing. It’s quiet, good chance to get it done, he said. He was a hard worker.
He played the piano, relaxed him. Talent. Finally, fist time I met him was search for the new prez. Brice Griffis on IHL Board … well into the search. To bring them on campus etc. Got through first two candidates. I asked him, where are you leaning? He said not going to tell you. Third one, luncheon here, Don got up and started talking. I turned to Brice and I looked at him and gave thumbs up. He smiled and did same. Next day Don Zacharias became our 15th president.
All lost a great leader, outstanding citizen. Thankful for service, and Tommie, for yours as well. (Quotes Irish Blessing) 11:55
DR. JIMMY ABRAHAM – Exec director MSU Alumni Association. Says Dr. Z told him students “kept him young.” No major academic scholarships at the time we first met. In 1987 Schillig Scholarship established. To reward students for academic achievements. Because of his hard work – now 35 distinguished scholars and competitive program for academically talented students. 1987 faculty meeting – he gave State of State. Will never forget what he said – had to do with letter from a parent about a faculty member who helped his son. Dr. Z … after reading letter …he paused, looked up and said “This is a great reminder that all of us .. nothing is routine when dealing with the lives of other people.” Vintage Dr. Zacharias.
(Recalls banquet – video seen at first of service. Keenum gave Dr. Z silver engraved cowbell.) No one there will ever forget his ringing it loud and proud. No question he is ringing it loud and proud in heaven … master teacher showing everyone how to do it properly, “It’s all in the wrist.”
He helped shape so many into the person they are today. Everyone around him always felt important. Great president, even better person. His foot prints forever on this campus. God said, Well done my good a faithful servant. … and you were a Bulldog. 12:02
ERIC ZACHARIAS – 12:04 – Feel like I’m among family here. Thank you for coming. Thank you for making this a peaceful place for us as we share Dad’s passing. Want to share some special moments in Dad’s life.
(Tells about father’s upbringing. Son is an internal medicine doctor in Boulder, Colo. Told about father coming up poor, good parents, importance of education. He was a star student and star leader. They decided he should train to become their minister.)
When got to campus, wrote a letter to the newspaper editor. Loved newspaper business. Letter said it was behind the times in 1953 not to allow boys and girls to use the swimming pool at the same time. Day after, he was called into Baptist College’s office – told not to mention this again. Dad decided he would do something else. Adviser said speech communications a good path, he did.
Thrived in his academic work … a runner, a miler. Loved it. So proud of grandson who is an outstanding runner. When I see Luke run, I see Dad in him a little bit. (Son resembles his dad a bit. Lean, thin face.) Went to University of Texas, we were faculty children. Great memories. Remembers the sound of a typewriter as his father worked at night. Everytime I hear a typewriter I feel at peace, I think of Dad.
Another memory – Got rid of VW Beetle. Got worse car, Datsun 260Z. Remember this young professor, young harried mother of three. Dad driving. All us crammed in there .. happy as clams. Dad shifting gears through Austin to Luby’s cafeteria. Most dangerous way to transport your children? We would have won (the contest for that). Our lives were great because of the wonderful people around us.
Life as children of college president. Felt part of the community. Wonderful. Moving can be tough … kindness of many of the people in this room and Kentucky, it wasn’t bad. In fact, it was great. Welcoming environment, made us feel comfortable. Dad loved to work – never known anybody who ever put in those hours. Dad, nobody ever thought you were lazy. Quotation on his home office – from Einstein – begins “We exist for our fellow man.” He believed it.
In our final conversation, week before he passed away … surprised when a strong, calm, baritone came on – Hello, Eric. Dad sounded great. Typical of Dad, wouldn’t complain about his state of health … all about others. WE talked about public health promotion, many good things he sees Keenum doing. (He loved to talk about you, he said to Mark Keenum.) Last time I spoke with Dad. That talk was really consistent with almost every talk we had … joy about where he was in life, people associated with and what they were doing. Dad loved working here. He loved it. We loved being here. When I see somebody in office and ask where from? I say I’m from Mississippi (I was 18.) So proud of this place. He was too. So, it’s an honor to thank you for embracing us and embracing Donald Zacharias. Thank you for letting us into your MS Stat world. 12”15
KEENUM – Hope you’ve been thinking about your own personal memories of Donald Zacharias. He was quite a remarkable individual. I am blessed more than I probably ever will know for impact on me and the lives of you today. Ms. Tommie, thank you for sharing him with us and all you and your family have meant to us at MSU. Invited us to a reception next door. Know she will be glad to see you.
Join with MSU chorus – Alma Mater “Maroon and White.”
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10:45 POST
STARKVILLE – VIPs, friends and students gathered this morning at Mississippi State University to bid farewell to Dr. Donald Zacharias, its 15th president, who died earlier this week.
Among the front-row attenders are Dr. Robert C. Khayat, former Ole Miss chancellor, Dr. Aubrey Lucas of Delta State and USM, and former head football coach Jackie Sherrill.
A string trio is playing classical music in the large ballroom, where photos of Zacharias through the years are shown on a large screen at the room’s front.
A large choir prepares to sing.
Expect famed author John Grisham, an MSU grad, to be among today’s speakers.
• Come back for updates and more details of today’s memorial. Read Friday’s Daily Journal for additional views of the event. Follow Patsy’s Tweets on Twitter @RealNewsQueen.