Northwestern State and the Long Purple Line, Part 2

Northwestern State and the Long Purple Line, Part 2

After tossing the chalk into the air, I asked, “What made the chalk fall to the floor?” I answered my own question, saying, “You think it’s gravity, but it is the little green people. They live in the air and are cleaning their homes.” I then gave a 15-minute speech on the little green people. I had one in my pocket. Part of my speech was a brief dialogue with my invisible friend, one of the little green people.

After the class, Mr. Graham would give you your grade. Shamelessly, I asked. He showed me his grade book. I had an A- with a question mark. I asked about the question mark and he said, “It was excellent, but I want to know when you prepared it.” I smiled, shrugged and walked out. My then wife-to-be remembers it the same way.

Three weeks later, we were assigned an extemporaneous speech. A student would stand in front of the class, Mr. Graham would give the topic and off the top of the student’s head, a speech had to be given. I could have argued that I had already done that. When my turn came, Mr. Graham gave me the subject: alarm clock. Before “clock” was out of his mouth, I said, “In 1783, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, John Smith first conceived of combining a timing device with an alarming device ...” At this point, Mr. Graham interrupted and said, “Stop! Stop! Stop! You know too much about alarm clocks,” which made me start laughing.

He said, “You made that up!” I nodded yes and he turned bright red! He then said, “OK, Mr. Smarter-than-your-Pants, give me a speech on the hole in the doughnut.” Through experience I knew a great deal more about doughnuts than alarm clocks so I gave him the speech. Sitting in that class was the young lady with whom I would spend the next 51 years. At that moment neither of us knew of our future together.

Northwestern and Jackie Smith

In the fall and spring of 1962-63, my wife and I had another permanent connection with Northwestern forged. Jackie Smith is a NFL Hall of Fame legend. He changed the way his position was played and was a tour de force in his era. In 1962, there was a 15-year old boy who was not a great athlete but who had the privilege of watching the 18-year old Jackie Smith training for the high hurdles in track and field as a freshman at NSU. With a video-tape memory, this boy remembers watching Jackie Smith “step” over the high hurdles, and at a high rate of speed.

After his freshman year at Texas A&M, this young man, now 18, returned to NSU as a sophomore. To his surprise, he and Jackie were taking a course together and they studied together. They played paddleball and the boy remembers bouncing off Jackie as the ball bounced off the walls of the court. By now, you know that this boy was me. I have thought of Jackie many times since those early years. I watched him play on TV and was proud to have known him, however briefly. I remember his athleticism, strength and speed, but mostly I remember that he was an incredibly kind person and he was always a gentleman.

On Jan. 26, 2016, I talked to Jackie for the first time in 53 years. He was as nice as I remembered him. I felt like a kid again, enjoying the attention of a hero. I hope that Jackie and I can enjoy a meal together but even if we don’t, that visit was special to me. In 2000, Jackie was honored with the highest award Northwestern can confer upon an alumnus: He was elected to The Long Purple Line. And, in March of this year, that 15-year old boy, who watched him in awe, will join him in that honor. This will be an incredible experience for an ordinary athlete who simply loved to run and who remembers one who could run like the wind and who could also clear the way of any humans who stood in his way.

NSU’s greatest gift to me

The greatest gift Northwestern gave me was an introduction to my wife. Carolyn Bellue and I became great friends but did not date. In the summer of 1964, the Louisiana Baptist Convention through the Northwestern Baptist Student Union (BSU) sent me to Kenya for a summer missionary program. That was a wonderful experience. Carolyn’s father sent me $20 for the trip. Traveling back through Israel, I bought Carolyn a mother-of-pearl New Testament and wrote in it, “Dear Sis,” as at that time she was only like a sister to me. When I gave it to her, she said, “I’ll carry this in ‘my’ wedding.” Eleven months later, she carried it in “our” wedding.

Africa and the Civil Rights Movement

After returning from Africa, in October 1964, I addressed the BSU State Convention held in Monroe, Louisiana. Having matured into a commitment to respect the person and the rights of all people, having been part of a church that sang “red and yellow, black and white,” and after my experience in Africa, I was deeply committed to social and ethnic equality. In my speech, I addressed civil rights and racial equality, after which every one present avoided me.

I wasn’t asked to speak in the state again until 1994, 30 years later, when I was asked to address 500 community leaders about abortion in Lake Charles, Louisiana. I asked those present to raise their hands if they were for abortion; none did. I asked them to raise their hands if they were against abortion; all did. I added, “Well, we have that settled; let’s talk about the blood brother, the fellow traveler, the co-laborer with the abortionist who is the bigot and the racially prejudiced. Through a one-hour address, I affirmed the equality of all men, women, boys and girls and encouraged all to embrace civil rights. This is all the result of my maturation at Northwestern.

Returning to Northwestern and The Long Purple Line

In May 2015, Carolyn and I returned to Northwestern for our 50th graduation anniversary. This was the capstone of the Hollys and NSU. Unknown to Carolyn, four years before, I had arranged to endow a Distinguished Professorship in her name, and in the fall of 2014, added a scholarship in our mothers’ names. Those endowments were announced at the 50th anniversary.

When NSU President Dr. Jim Henderson called me Jan. 15 to notify me of my election to the NSU Long Purple Line, I was elated. After receiving the Distinguished Alumnus award from my school of medicine in 2012; I did not think anything could “top” that. Little did I realize that such an award from NSU would be so very significant to me. Carolyn and I arrived at NSU as children and we left as young adults. The course of our life was set at NSU. Our relationship, which has lasted a lifetime, was forged there. The connection between Carolyn’s family and mine was woven at Northwestern.

I am honored and truly humbled to become one of the Long Purple Line. Yet, if the honor were accurate, it would be to Dr. and Mrs. James L. Holly, as absolutely nothing in my life since I first kissed Carolyn one night in front of the NSU dining hall Dec. 12, 1964, and our wedding day Aug. 7, 1965, when I was 21 years old, has been accomplished without Carolyn’s support, encouragement, collaboration and challenge. I have so much to be thankful to Carolyn and to Northwestern for, and now this honor is added to that debt. The Apostle Paul admonished us to “owe no man anything except a debt of love.” My wife and I owe Northwestern a large debt of love. I owe my wife a debt of and for everything. I will spend my life henceforth continuing to try to repay a small part of that debt to both.

Before her death, Carolyn had known and learned to love my grandmother, who started the Long Purple Line for both Carolyn and me. It would have been wonderful if she could be with us today, but she is alive in our memories, as we only imagine a young woman joining this line in 1918.


Dr. James L. Holly is CEO of Southeast Texas Medical Associates, LLP (SETMA) in Beaumont.