My first thought was, how do I get out of this?
Then I realized that if I publicly bite the hand that feeds me, it will be difficult for him to retaliate without appearing to retaliate, and that would make him look mean-spirited and vindictive, which college presidents are not supposed to be — at least publicly. So I hesitated, not sure what to do, until they told me that the “roast” was to raise money for the Center of Concern, a faith-based organization that helps Calhoun County’s neediest residents. How could I say no to that?
So, I didn’t.
I signed on.
As I began to consider what to say, I came to the realization that as soon as I got to campus (1990), President Meehan set out to best me in everything I undertook.
I arrived with a new bride in tow, a lovely lady a “few” years my junior. When asked why she would agree to wed someone as ancient as I, she candidly replied, “He has a beach house.”
Not long after we were settled, Meehan went out and married an equally lovely lady of approximately the same fewer years as my sweetie.
Shortly after that, my wife and I welcomed our first-born, a boy.
Shortly after that, the Meehans welcomed their first-born — twin boys.
Not to be outdone, the Jacksons added a girl to their family.
So did the Meehans — apparently, the lady of that house put out a “no more twins” warning.
Meanwhile, Meehan was rising fast up the administrative ladder, surviving academic battles that were so bitter because so little was at stake, until he finally reached the presidency. There, he was blamed for everything from faculty salaries (always too low), class sizes (always too large), the emphasis on sports (always too great) and the length of his speeches (never too short). In that office, he had to listen to advice from people who were certain that he would see things the way they do if only he was as smart as they were and endure a radio tongue-lashing by someone with the intellectual credentials of Paul Finebaum.
Aware of how relieved my fellow faculty members were when my son, young Will Jackson, scion of the family, decided to attend a university other than Jacksonville State (the thought of having my boy in class sent shutters through our hallowed halls), I could see clearly how sensitive our president is to faculty concerns when he sent both his boys off to join my son at another institution of higher learning. Once again, faculty failed to appreciate the significance of what he has done.
Also going where even angels fear to tread, Meehan became Jacksonville State’s spokesman at the state Legislature, a task where the line between courage and foolishness is blurred — when it is drawn at all. His frequent trips to Montgomery have been watched by hopeful faculty who share in his disappointment at the paltry results that come from this great effort.
Nevertheless, Alabama being what it is and the Legislature being what it is, we all know it could be worse.
So I roasted him, pointing out, as I did, these similarities and differences, victories and shortcomings, and in the process suggested that in tribute to his hard work, we should raise a monument to him on which would be inscribed these words: “He done his damndest.”
It seemed a worthy tribute to the man who holds my job, and the future well-being of my family, by a slender thread.
Others roasted him as well, calling attention to the fact that few folks have ever seen him in anything other than a dark suit, shined shoes and a starched shirt so white that the reflected light will blind you. Some took note of eccentricities of which even I was not aware, all done in good fun and for a good cause. Classic on Noble served up an excellent meal and donated its share of the evening to the Center of Concern, a gesture much appreciated by those present and who will be even more appreciated by the people the Center helps.
In closing, I took the opportunity to remind Meehan and the audience and now you, gentle readers, of something we should all keep in mind.
No matter how far you go in life, no matter how high you rise, no matter the wealth of honors bestowed on you, the size of the crowd at your funeral will always depend on the weather.
You can count on that.
Harvey H. (“Hardy”) Jackson is Eminent Scholar in History at Jacksonville State University and a columnist and editorial writer for The Star. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.