She was a true Southern lady.
The phrase was repeated often on Wednesday as news spread across the Jacksonville State University campus about the passing of former JSU First Lady Mrs. Ada Montgomery, wife of ninth JSU President Dr. Theron Montgomery, who died Tuesday night after a long illness. She was 88.
Among those expressing his thoughts about the former first lady was Mark Jones, Jacksonville City Council president and JSU’s director of recreational sports, who has been friends with the Montgomerys since he was a student at the university.
“Mrs. Montgomery was the epitome of a Southern lady. She always carried herself with class, always had a smile on her face and was just a loving woman.”
Ada Kathleen Bounds’ association with Jacksonville State Teachers College began four years before her marriage to Dr. Theron Montgomery. A Tuscaloosa native well acquainted with life in a college town, she accepted a dietitian position at JSTC in 1947. The young Miss Bounds made such a positive impression that President Houston Cole hired her even before she had finished college, due to a recommendation from her dean at the University of Alabama. Immediately after graduation, she moved into Daugette Hall, where room and board were included as part of her salary, and began work.
Three years passed and a young Ph.D. from South Carolina joined the faculty. Ada Bounds fell in love with Dr. Theron E. Montgomery, Jr., and the couple married in August 1951.
Mrs. Montgomery took some time from her career to focus on homemaking and motherhood. The couple had two children, Theron E. “Tem” Montgomery III and Katherine Anne “Kam” Montgomery. In 1967, President Cole offered her a job in the materials center of the library of what was now called Jacksonville State College, and so she returned to work. Eventually, Mrs. Montgomery received her master’s degree from Jacksonville State University and became director of instructional media, a position she held until her husband became JSU’s ninth president in July 1981. At her husband’s side, Mrs. Montgomery celebrated many JSU milestones, including the University’s Centennial in 1983.
“The professional careers of both the president and his wife have been intertwined in the history of this university,” wrote Effie White Sawyer in The First Hundred Years: The History of Jacksonville State University 1883-1983.
“The charming and gracious Ada Montgomery provides a sparkle that will kindle the future of Jacksonville State University.”
Most assuredly, that sparkle inspired future first couples, including Dr. William A. Meehan and his wife, Beth.
“Beth and I would agree that Mrs. Montgomery was a Southern Lady and more importantly a gracious hostess for the many events she and Dr. Montgomery had at the home,” recalls Dr. Meehan.
“I knew her since 1968 and I can say I never heard a discouraging word from her. She was always positive and had a smile for all.
“She made revisions to the President’s Home which remain and are enjoyed by the guests to this day. The renovations to the library and its bay window, the patio, and carport are among the architectural points she helped design. Many furnishings remain along with the Oriental motif she brought to the home.
“We will miss her very much. Our thoughts and prayers are with the Montgomery family.”
One first lady who shared a special bond with Ada Montgomery is Gayle McGee, widow of Dr. Harold McGee, tenth president of JSU.
“She was a lovely, gracious lady from the first day I met her until the last day I saw her,” Mrs. McGee says. “She always had that most beautiful smile just covering her face. She was truly a gracious, lovely lady, always, to me and my family.”
Whether it was within a group of people or in individual conversation, Mrs. Montgomery was always the same, she adds.
Between fellow first ladies, the bond was particularly strong. What did they talk about?
“We passed along little secrets that we just keep among ourselves,” Mrs. McGee remembers with a laugh, “Between Mrs. Cole, Mrs. Stone, Mrs. Montgomery, on down the line, because it is quite a unique job. In many ways it’s a wonderfully pleasant job, and at times it is also difficult. From the day that we first met her, Ada was always so pleasant and thoughtful, sharing little tips with me, and I always appreciated it so much.
“Each of us has been and always will be very different, but we shared the same house and our husband had the same jobs so that probably gave us a bond that others did not have.
“We always had a warm relationship and I will miss her greatly.”
In addition to her husband and children Tem Montgomery and Kam Montgomery Richardson, Mrs. Montgomery is survived by son-in-law Thomas Richardson and grandchildren Ethan and Taylor Montgomery and Boyd and Katie Richardson.
She and Dr. Montgomery recently celebrated their sixty-third wedding anniversary.
Mrs. Montgomery will be laid to rest at the Jacksonville City Cemetery on Saturday, September 20 at 10 a.m. Guests are invited to pay their respects at a reception to follow at St. Luke’s Episcopal Church.
Photo: Mrs. Ada Montgomery (Steve Latham/JSU)