This 2011 Distinguished Alum of the Year in the College of Applied and Natural Sciences and author is a former state senator who still raises cattle and practices law in his hometown of Ruston, a football’s throw from his favorite University.
Why did you choose Tech? Both parents graduated from Tech, along with over two dozen other close relatives. There are a lot of Joneses. As if that weren’t enough, Coach (Joe) Alliet gave me a football scholarship, which certainly sealed the deal for me personally. Then my son and numerous nieces and nephews graduated from Tech. Tech has served my family and friends very well over the generations.
What are a couple of your favorite memories of Tech, when you were a student? I don’t have a “couple” of memories, I have a lot.
“South Campus” was not called the South Campus in my day—it was and always will be Reese Hall. You could get on a bus outside the science building every hour and it would take you out there for your next class. Reese Hall was where the agriculture and forestry classes were taught. Those are part of Life Sciences now. Why are those important? Well, Louisiana’s largest crop is timber and as far as I know, everybody likes to eat. Tech grads are found in all aspects of agriculture and the wood products business and very well regarded—you can ask my son, a Tech forestry graduate, who works for Temple in east Texas.
Less than 2% of the US population works in agriculture today, but a knowledge of the natural world is always important and useful, both in work and life in general. I think everyone should have a basic understanding of biology, botany and anatomy. Otherwise, how can we appreciate, enjoy and protect the beautiful and mysterious world we live in?
It may sound strange to today’s students living in those individual apartments instead of the dormitories, but I really liked living in the football dorm. As far as I was concerned, it was first class. I had only one actual roommate at a time (I’m the oldest of seven children). The training table was another high point. The food was always good, and we got it hot, even after late practices. The cooler was always full of Tech Dairy milk, including chocolate milk, and there was a freezer full of Tech Dairy ice cream. On Friday nights, we got Tech steaks, cooked the way we asked.
Talk about playing ball for Tech: I had great teammates, good friends. There is no way to describe what being on a team does for a young person (I was on a football team, but it’s true for all team sports). When a young person gets to the point where he is determined to do his job, no matter what the cost, because he does not want to let his teammates down—that’s something special, something that carries over into later life. I got a chance to experience that at Tech, and I would not trade it for anything. I had great classmates out at Reese Hall too. We had a lot of fun. Boo-ray games (my Cajun teammates whipped me regularly) in the TV room at the dorm, shooting pool at the Tonk, rodeos in the off-season—what more could you ask?
After a couple of bad seasons, our football team became pretty good and we played in the first bowl game ever for Tech—and won. You can look it up. And the coaches I had a Tech: Coach Alliet, Jimmy Mize, George Doughtery, E. J. Lewis, Tony Misita, Pat Collins, Mickey Slaughter, Pat Patterson—not to mention a young graduate assistant from Arkansas named Jimmy Johnson. I played for some very good coaches. Like my academic teachers, they cared about us. They were passionate about what they were doing. They were demanding, and it was a lot of work, but there was plenty of fun had along the way.
What were some of your favorite classes? I enjoyed most of my classes. I had some very good, even great, teachers. At Reese Hall, there was Dean Barker, Dr. Clark, Dr. Stewart and David Lee Hays. On the main campus, I had some fine teachers in subjects outside of agriculture: in English, I had Mrs. Gwaltney and her husband, Francis Gwaltney. Mr. Gwaltney both taught me how to write and encouraged me to write. Dr. Winters, Dr. Attrep in history; Dr. Sandoz in philosophy and political science; Buddy Napper in business law; and many others who took an interest in their students, including me, and who took the time to both impart knowledge and help us learn how to think.
How did Tech help prepare you for life after college: When researching I book I wrote, I met a gentlemen who grew up cowboying in a south Louisiana ranching family but ended up practicing law for 40-plus years. When asked about his varied work and life experiences, he said, “Bill, nothing I ever did hurt—it all helped.” I think that is true.
It seems to me that a college education should help students learn three things: the skills necessary to learn (I describe those as reading, writing and thinking); the specialized knowledge unique to the particular discipline; and a glimpse of a wider world, a world broader and more varied than the student knew. I got an opportunity to learn some of all those things at Tech.
If a fellow can learn to read and write and think clearly, and if he learns a bit about working, he can do pretty much anything. If you can learn how to balance a beef cow’s ration by selecting the lowest cost components that meet the animal’s needs, you can apply that analytical skill to any business problem. If you can understand how statistics can predict certain genetic characteristics in future offspring, you can apply that that knowledge in other fields. And if you can read—well, you can learn anything. Along with reading comes writing—in order to write clearly, you must first learn to think clearly. I had a good foundation when I got to Tech (that is another story) and Tech’s faculty took me further. I was the only animal science graduate in my law school class, and it did not hurt me one bit. I had teachers at Tech who helped me learn to read, write and think clearly. Those skills work anywhere, in any field. And they continue to help me, even today.
What is it you appreciate most about how Tech affected you as a student and beyond? A university’s reputation is not made by its buildings or its sports teams. It is made by the quality of its faculty and students. As I look back on my time at Tech, what I remember most are the faculty members and coaches who took an interest in me and taught me, and for that I am forever grateful.