The Legacy of President Meehan: Student Days
By Heather Greene
William Arthur Meehan’s 47-year history with Jacksonville State University began in 1968, when he first stepped on campus as a freshman and “fell in love with the institution.”
It was an exciting time to be a Gamecock. Just two years prior to his arrival, JSU had transitioned from college to university status, and in 1967, the Alabama Legislature established an independent Board of Trustees for the university, divesting jurisdiction from the State Board of Education. Little did the new board know that one of the most influential figures in the history of the university was about to enroll as an undergraduate.
Meehan came to the university during the era of many “greats” in JSU history. Houston Cole was president and Theron E. Montgomery was dean of the university. The 1969 Board of Trustees was comprised of Paul Carpenter, Frieda Coggins, Houston Cole, Mrs. C.T. Fitzpatrick, Dwayne Luce, Pete Mathews, Hugh Merrill, Madge Poole, Ernest Stone, James Thorton and Col. C.W. Daugette, Jr.
“My distinct memory is that of how much the faculty and staff cared about students,” stated Meehan. “The Calverts, Lovetts and other faculty regularly took students out to eat or had them as guests in their homes. The environment has always been student friendly.”
While he would one day become the university’s top administrator, Meehan had the same interests as any college student. He joined the Delta Chi fraternity, which had just been founded a year prior to his arrival, and enjoyed student life. During the spring of 1968, the legendary Ray Charles performed on campus. In 1971, the Allman Brothers entertained students with a concert. Television legend George Lindsey even attended a JSU game in 1972. While Meehan just missed Ray Charles, as he became a freshman that fall, he does remember the Allman Brothers coming to campus.
Today, Meehan is amazed as he reflects on the mass influx of technology into the classroom since his days as a student. He can remember when research papers were written in Turabian style and carbon paper was widely used for copying classroom materials.
“We weren’t even allowed to carry calculators to class, if you had them,” recalled Meehan. “They were brand new. We had slide rules and occasionally you couldn’t even bring your slide rule to class.”
By all accounts, Meehan was a great student, well liked by his classmates and professors. Donald “Don” Braxton Martin (’71), a Delta Chi and former classmate and fraternity brother of Meehan, said the president always stood out.
“I have heard it said about Bill Clinton, and most recently Garth Brooks, that they would look you in the eye and make you feel like you are the only person in the room and the most important person in the world – even if just for a moment,” Martin said. “Bill Meehan has that talent. He rose to the highest position you can achieve at Jacksonville State University, as president, and he did it without ever closing his door, without ever forgetting his friends and fraternity brothers. In fact, the higher he rose, the closer he wanted his friends. I am proud to have had the privilege to call Bill Meehan, ‘classmate,’ ‘fraternity brother,’ ‘president,’ but most of all, ‘friend.’ ”
After completing his Bachelor of Science in biology in 1972, Meehan returned for his master’s degree in the same field and worked as a graduate assistant in the Office of Admissions. “I had great mentorship here with the faculty in the biology department and other administrators,” he said.
Looking back on his student days, Meehan said he is impressed by the current generation. “What I like most about seeing our students today – and I say this at every graduation speech – is that they are much more service-oriented than previous generations of students. They are willing to reach out and want to do more volunteer work. I see a lot of altruism in our students today, and I’m very proud of that.”
In next week’s Town & Gown, we will focus on Meehan’s time as a high school teacher and JSU professor. Are you one of his former students? We would like to hear your stories!