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Released June 23, 2003

By David Tisdale

HATTIESBURG - Jay Washam's plan to obtain a Ph.D. in history from The University of Southern Mississippi ended tragically August 15, 1994, while on his way to Hattiesburg to enroll for the fall semester.

Washam, 22, was killed in a car accident on U.S. 49 near Seminary that day, about 20 miles north of the Southern Miss campus. But his family and the Southern Miss History Department would not allow Washam's dream to end with his death.

Shortly after the accident, former Southern Miss History Department chairman Dr. Orazio Ciccarelli and Washam's family established the Jay Washam Award for Excellence, given each year to a student from the department judged to have submitted the best dissertation.

"It was one of the most touching events I had dealt with as chair of the department," said Ciccarelli. "Jay's family wanted to maintain a connection with Southern Miss and the department, and to preserve his memory."

To bolster funding for the award, the Washams have donated a 1923 Hudson Super 6 automobile to the Southern Miss Foundation, which was to be a gift to Jay when he completed his doctoral program. Proceeds from the planned sale of the car will go to the award fund.

Jay's family, including his father Dr. Clinton J. Washam, his mother Sandra and sisters Kimberly and Tami, recently decided to donate the car as a way to help secure long-term funding for the award.

Jay Washam was a graduate of Union College in Lincoln, Neb. where he received his bachelor's degree, and did graduate work at Tarelton State University in Texas. His father described his son as a "voracious reader" who was looking forward to coming to Southern Miss to continue his education.

"Even though Jay can't live out his dream, these young people can live out theirs," Dr. Washam said of the award honoring his son. "It gives us great joy and satisfaction to make this donation."

The exact value of the car is undetermined. But if it could talk, the vehicle's worth would be immense to historians. According to a photo caption in the April 28, 1974 edition of the South Bend Tribune, it was allegedly once the personal car of a well-known New York hoodlum and was discovered in near-perfect condition in 1959 after being hidden for more than three decades in a walled-up niche of a Chicago warehouse.

"It seems fitting that this interesting historical artifact will both serve to honor the memory of a young man whose potential as a historian was tragically cut short, and benefit future generations of budding professional historians," said Dr. Chuck Bolton, current chair of the Southern Miss History Department.

Dr. Karen Cox, director of the public history program at the University of North Carolina-Charlotte, was the first recipient of the Washam award. Cox said she's pleased that the donation of the Hudson will help benefit history students at Southern Miss, and that Jay continues to be honored by his family through the award bearing his name.

"I am moved by the spirit of generosity of Jay's parents and their desire to remember him through this award," Cox said. "I sincerely appreciate being recognized for my scholarship as the first Washam Award winner, and believe this is a wonderful way for the Washams to honor their son."


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April 20, 2004 4:09 PM