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'Legends' Join 175th Anniversary Founders’ Day Events

February 7, 2008

Media Contact:
Mark Vanderhoek
(478) 301-4037

MACON  — Mercer University, which is celebrating its 175th year, will mark the anniversary with several special Founders’ Day activities, including the traditional convocation on the Macon campus, as well as a Feb. 26 event on the Atlanta campus and an event featuring a discussion with five “Mercer Legends” on the Macon campus. Both Macon events will be held on Feb. 13 in Willingham Auditorium.

The Macon convocation and the Atlanta event on Feb. 26 will feature keynote addresses by Mercer Chancellor R. Kirby Godsey. The event in Atlanta will be held at 3:30 p.m. in Cecil B. Day Hall. The Macon convocation on Feb. 13, which is sponsored by Mercer’s Student Government Association, will take place at 10 a.m.

Godsey, who was the longest serving president in Mercer’s history, accepted appointment to chancellor upon leaving that post June 30, 2006. During his 27-year tenure, he expanded the University to include a business school, engineering school, medical school, school of education, theology school and music school and greatly expanded University enrollment and endowment. Godsey is also working on a book on the University’s history, being developed for the 175th anniversary.

In the afternoon, SGA will hold an event in Willingham as part of the 175th anniversary called “Mercer Legends:  A Candid Conversation.”  The event will begin at 3:30 p.m. and will feature five prominent Mercerians:  author Ferrol Sams; Sam Oni, Mercer’s first black student; longtime English professor Mary Wilder; lawyer and author Robert Steed; and former U.S. Attorney General Griffin Bell.

Mary Wilder, Ph.D., earned her bachelor’s degree from Mercer in 1954 and later became a professor of English, where her hard work, energy and concern for students have made her a legend in her own time. The former chair of the English Department was affectionately known by students as “Bloody Mary” for the red ink she used on students’ papers. However, beneath the nickname lies a woman who cared for her students enough to expect nothing but their best. Involved with community, she earned a reputation as a “mover and a shaker” for her political activism. In 1997, she was awarded the Spencer B. King Jr. Distinguished Professor Award – one of the highest honors given to a Mercer faculty member. She retired from Mercer in 1998, but her contributions continue to be felt on the University campus.

The Honorable Griffin B. Bell is an extraordinary alumnus of Mercer, having earned a law degree in 1948 and an honorary doctor of laws in 1967. He is best known for having served as the 72nd Attorney General of the United States under President Jimmy Carter. His appointment followed 14 years of distinguished service on the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, where he was a leading voice in some of the court’s most enduring legal decisions. An adviser to state and national political leaders, he has been influential in the courts of law as well as the state and national corridors of political decision making. A partner of the prestigious law firm King & Spalding, he has served as the general chair of the highly successful Mercer 2000: Advancing the Vision Campaign. After completing five terms on the Board of Trustees, including serving as chair, he was recently named a Life Trustee. He was the first person to be designated a Distinguished University Professor at Mercer.

Sam Oni, a native of Ghana, became Mercer’s first black student in 1963. While at Mercer, he was active in student organizations, including the campus newspaper, The Cluster, and in Macon’s black community. As a student, he continued to break racial barriers off campus. During his freshman year, he joined Vineville Baptist Church, becoming the first black person to become a member of a Southern Baptist-affiliated church in Georgia. After completing his bachelor’s degree in sociology from Mercer in 1967, he attended the University of California at Berkeley, where he received a master’s degree in journalism. Oni serves as managing director of TYN Ventures, an import-export company in Nigeria, and executive director of Project Ploughshare for Africa, an organization committed to self-help and community development initiatives in rural areas.

Ferrol Sams, M.D., is a 1942 graduate of Mercer’s College of Liberal Arts. Sams is a physician, humorist, storyteller and best-selling author of seven books. Most notable is his trilogy of novels in which an eccentric and quixotic hero, Porter Osborne Jr., mirrors Sams’ own Georgia boyhood in Fayette County through his college years. His first book, “Run With the Horsemen,” published in 1982, topped the Atlanta best sellers lists for nearly three years. In “Whisper of the River,” the sequel to his first novel, Mercer University becomes “Willingham University.” In 2001, the Georgia Center for the Book included “Run With the Horseman” on its list of 25 books every Georgian should read. In 2006, it was the first book chosen to be the focus of Atlanta Reads: One Book, One Community.
Robert L. Steed earned his bachelor’s and law degrees from Mercer in 1958 and 1961 and was awarded an honorary doctor of laws in 1979. Steed is a noted humorist, author of four books and columnist for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution as well as a partner with King & Spalding. Mr. Steed has provided extensive leadership to Mercer. In addition to serving six terms as a member of the Mercer Board of Trustees, including chairman, he has been a member of the Board of the Walter F. George Trust, chair of the Mercer School of Law Board of Visitors and president of the Law Alumni Association. Among his many honors, he is a recipient of the Outstanding Alumnus Award from the Mercer Law School and the Journalistic Achievement Award and Honor Award from the Council of Authors and Journalists. He serves as executive vice chair of the highly successful Mercer 2000: Advancing the Vision Campaign.

About Mercer University:
Founded in 1833, Mercer University is a dynamic and comprehensive center of undergraduate, graduate and professional education. The University has 7,300 students; 11 schools and colleges – liberal arts, law, pharmacy, medicine, business, engineering, education, theology, music, nursing and continuing and professional studies; major campuses in Macon and Atlanta; four regional academic centers across the state; a university press; two teaching hospitals — Memorial Health University Medical Center and the Medical Center of Central Georgia; educational partnerships with Warner Robins Air Logistics Center in Warner Robins and Piedmont Healthcare in Atlanta; an engineering research center in Warner Robins; a performing arts center in Macon; and a NCAA Division I athletic program. For more information, visit
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