marketing and public relations
click here for the news highlights
click here for all news releases
click here for contacts
click here to read our functions
eagles eye
click here for the experts guide
click here for our home page
click here to subscribe to news by email
click here for the southern miss home page
click here for licensing
style guide
graphics standards

Released September 13, 2005


HAttiesburg– Colleagues and former students are remembering the late Dr. John Gonzales, a retired distinguished professor of history at The University of Southern Mississippi, for his boundless generosity and tireless devotion to the university community he served for more than half a century.

Gonzales died Aug. 27 at Hattiesburg’s Forrest General Hospital after a lengthy illness. He was 80.

A memorial service will be held Sunday, Sept. 18, at 3 p.m. at University Baptist Church in Hattiesburg, located at 3200 West Arlington Loop. A private committal service will be held at Prairieville Cemetery in Gonzales, La., on Friday, Sept. 16.

Gonzales earned his undergraduate and master’s degrees from Louisiana State University and a doctorate from the University of North Carolina. He joined the then Mississippi Southern College faculty in 1945 and taught at the university for the next 54 years, making him the longest serving faculty member in Southern Miss history.

In addition to his teaching duties, he served for many years as editor of the Journal of Mississippi History and played a key role in the revival of the Mississippi Historical Society while also serving as its president.

Southern Miss history professor Dr. William Scarborough said Gonzales eschewed material wealth, preferring to focus on his profession and love of history. “He lived the spartan life in a simple apartment across from the campus - never owned a car, never had a family,” Scarborough said. “He would get up in the morning, stop at the IHOP (International House of Pancakes) to have breakfast, and then walk across the street to campus to work.

“His whole life was wrapped around the university. He was a master teacher, a forceful, inspiring lecturer, and I know generations of former students remember him favorably. He was also a congenial colleague who was always concerned with how each of us was doing.”

“He was always kind and helpful to junior faculty,” said Dr. Chuck Bolton, former chair of the Southern Miss Department of History and now chair of the history department at the University of North Carolina-Greensboro. “I remember one time asking him about a book I was looking for, and he went to his office, which was cluttered from floor to ceiling with books, papers, old exams, etc., and he somehow immediately produced the book and then gave it to me.

“His whole life was dedicated to The University of Southern Mississippi and especially to the Department of History and its students. He was a credit to the historical profession and a faculty member the likes of which USM will never likely see again. I was honored to know him.”

Gonzales taught two of the Southern Miss Department of History’s retired faculty members and one current history professor at the university, including Drs. Ken McCarty, Neil McMillen and Andrew Wiest. Southern Miss President Dr. Shelby Thames and Southern Miss President Emeritus Dr. Aubrey K. Lucas were also former students of Gonzales.

Describing Gonzales as “one of the most gentle, caring, unassuming and generous men I have ever known,” McCarty estimated that Gonzales taught more than 20,000 students in his Southern Miss career. “He influenced me in my decision to be a history professor, and he influenced countless others to choose history as a profession,” McCarty said.

“But we learned more than history from him. He also taught us that we ought to remember that a university is for students and teaching them is our number one priority, that we ought to love and care for our students. He prided himself on being civil in an increasingly uncivil world, and he was never too busy to give freely of his time to his or anyone’s students.”

Thames said that Gonzales will continue to live on in the hearts and minds of his former students, friends and colleagues. “I am saddened to learn that Southern Miss has lost one of its most staunch supporters and beloved professors,” Thames said. “While inspiring students and his passion for teaching were his trademarks, Dr. Gonzales also made major contributions to the historical research of the South, and Mississippi in particular.

“I’m very proud to have known Dr. Gonzales, and those of us who knew him will always recall and cherish his soft-spoken manner and loyalty to this university. We will always be thankful for his memory.”

Lucas praised Gonzales for his many years of service to Southern Miss. “He devoted his life to USM, where he taught two and three generations of USM families,” he said. “We have lost a dear friend and a valuable source of university history,” Lucas said.

Wiest recalls Gonzales stopping by his office to visit after Wiest returned to Southern Miss to join the history department’s faculty. “I will always remember how, as a young faculty member, he would come by my office to check on me to make certain that I was doing well -- referring to me and others in a grandfatherly way as 'hon.' He was the embodiment of what is good and decent in academia.”

Married and with a new baby and strapped for cash, then Southern Miss graduate student Neil McMillen remembers being bowled over by Gonzales’ generosity when, out of the blue, he gave McMillen the money to pay his thesis fee for graduation.

“He said, ‘Have you got any money?’ and I said no, and he just reached into his pocket and handed it to me, without me even asking for it,” McMillen said.

“It’s important to know that he took his students seriously as people and helped them out more than in just the classroom. He was a remarkable man – a real gentleman of the old school.”

Gonzales made certain that he could continue helping students beyond the end of his life when in 2001 he bequeathed the majority of his savings to the university’s history programs, the largest donation ever made at Southern Miss by a former faculty member.

Dr. Phyllis Jestice, current chair of the Southern Miss Department of History, said the funds will augment the John E. Gonzales Endowment in History, established in 1994 by many of his former students to provide scholarships for history graduate and undergraduate students.

In June 2000, Southern Miss recognized Gonzales’ many years of service by naming the auditorium in the Liberal Arts Building the John E. Gonzales Auditorium.

“If there’s one thing I look back on with fondness, it’s my teaching,” Gonzales said at the ceremony announcing his donation. “I’d just like to be remembered as a good teacher.”

Though he never married or had children, his Southern Miss family filled that void, said former colleague and retired history professor Orazio Ciccarelli. “Even as his health failed him, he remembered the names, achievements and peculiarities of many of his former students, who were a major source of pride and contentment for him,” Ciccarelli said.

“So, while we mourn his passing, we celebrate his full, meaningful and rich life.”

To contribute to the John E. Gonzales Endowment in History, contact the USM Foundation at Box 10026, Hattiesburg, MS 39406-0001 (phone 601-266-5602) or the USM Department of History, Box 5047, Hattiesburg, MS 39406-0001 (phone 601-266-4333).


to the top

2002 2003 2004

This page is maintained by the Department of Marketing and Public Relations at
The University of Southern Mississippi at
Comments and suggestions are welcome; direct them to

October 14, 2005 10:17 AM