Want to give someone a book for Christmas this year? I have an idea for you: 60: A Year of Sports, Race, and Politics, by Dr. Robert Khayat, Moss Point native and former chancellor of the University of Mississippi.
60 centers around the year 1960, when Dr. Khayat graduated from Ole Miss. He had been a football and baseball star for the Rebels, as well as a campus leader.
In football, Robert led the nation in scoring by kicking his senior year, and played on OM teams that went a combined 28-4-1, won the SEC championship, and shared a national championship. In baseball, he was an all-conference catcher on a Rebel team that went 22-3 and won the SEC.
There’s a lot of good stuff in the book about Robert’s exploits on the gridiron and the diamond, but it’s a lot more than that. He speaks with great warmth and candor about growing up in Moss Point with his close-knit family, including his father Eddie, an iconic community leader and Jackson County Supervisor.
(I have to tell you one of my favorite Eddie Khayat stories ) A good portion of our readers will remember “Mr. Eddie” as a true force of nature, one of the most effective elected officials this state has ever seen. When I had been at Singing River Health System for a couple of years as Director of Communications, Mr. Eddie, in retirement by then, had created and was hosting a popular local television show broadcast on our cable channel.
One day, Mr. Eddie called me and said, “Mr. Lucas , this is Mr. Khayat. You will be the guest on my show next week—we will talk about what all is going on at the Health System. Be at the station at 4:00 on Wednesday. I’ll see you then.”
Not, mind you, “would you like to come on my show” or “do you think it would be a good idea to come talk about the Health System.” Understand, that was just fine—that was just the way it worked with Mr. Eddie. Remarkable guy and presence.
In the book, Robert also relates stories about his time in Washington when he played for the Redskins as a Pro Bowl kicker. During this period, he learned a lot about himself and formed a worldview that would serve him well moving forward.
I could go on (and on) about the book, but you just need to read it for yourself. I’d like to now make some personal observations about the author.
The first time I actually met Robert Khayat was the spring of my eighth grade year at Pascagoula Junior High School. Our science teacher, Mrs. Brown (very good teacher) had to take a sabbatical that semester, so we needed an extended substitute. Who should the school administration bring in but former Ole Miss star and present Redskin kicker Khayat, who was in the off-season and wanted to keep busy?
After we got over the excitement of having a sports celebrity in the house, we soon found out that Mr. Khayat was a very bright guy, a skilled communicator, and ultimately a very good instructor. Even though he seemed a friendly sort, he was, in the manner of the day, somewhat of a disciplinarian.
One day in class, a couple of us wiseacres did something that Mr. Khayat felt warranted coming up to the front of the room and taking licks as punishment. As he was about to raise his paddle, he leaned over and whispered to me, “this won’t hurt.” It is the only time in my life that Robert Khayat has ever lied to me.
A few years later, when I was at Ole Miss, I would occasionally run into Robert, who by then was attending law school and/or working for the University. He was always friendly and helpful to me if I had needs or wanted advice.
Then, in the one year I attended law school, Dr. Khayat had become a highly respected member of the faculty. Sure enough, I –once again—had him as an instructor, this time for Civil Procedure. As you can imagine, he was a superb professor. He did take great pleasure in calling on me in class, usually with something like “now, Mr. Lucas is from the great city of Pascagoula. Mr. Lucas, would you be kind enough to enlighten us on your views concerning Jones v. Mississippi?”
Later, when Dr.Khayat became chancellor of the University of Mississippi, I had numerous opportunities to interact with him. As always, he was gracious, warm, and fun to talk with. By the way, Dr. Khayat was clearly one of the best university heads that his country has ever seen. His accomplishments at Ole Miss are legendary.
In life, one usually has maybe three or four individuals, other than their family, who have influenced them the most. I am proud to say that for me, Dr. Robert Khayat is in that number. Thanks, Robert, for all you have done for me, my family, our state, and our country. The next time you’re down-home to visit your sweet sister Kathy, call me, and let’s have lunch. Just don’t bring your paddle.’