In Memory of a Friend:Dr. Clinton Bristow Jr., 1949-2006
By Ronald Mason
Some people have to work hard to be leaders. Dr. Clinton Bristow was natural born. He had the look, the energy, the voice, the stature and the disposition that made him stand out in a crowd. As a university president, he was also blessed with two qualities essential for success. The first was a deep and abiding concern for the well-being of people, especially young people. He also had vision. His vision transformed Alcorn State University into a producer of graduates who are able to compete anywhere in the world.
There are three historically Black university presidents in Mississippi. Dr. Bristow was our dean. We looked to him to represent us on issues when a single voice was required. That is only one example of how Dr. Bristow’s voice spoke for many. He spoke for the 1890 Land Grant Institutions as their chairman; the student-athlete on the NCAA Council; state institutions for higher learning on the board of the National Association of State Universities and Land-Grant Colleges; equal opportunity on the board of the National Association of Equal Opportunity in Higher Education; and a myriad of other forums. Dr. Bristow’s election to such seats is evidence of the respect and trust that his peers had for and in his abilities. His untimely passing will leave a void in the nation’s compass of higher education.
I’ve described Dr. Bristow, the president, but there was much more to Clint, the human being. A few short stories will make the point. The day before Katrina, when Clint discovered that many of my family members had to evacuate New Orleans, he called and offered to share his home with anyone I could not accommodate. While on a visit to Jackson, he stopped by to meet my parents and see how they were doing. On a different occasion, I mentioned that my mother loved to cook okra gumbo. The next time I saw Clint, he had a bag of Alcorn State okra fresh from the field for her.
What I will remember most about Clint is his sense of humor. There is a lot of humor in this world and most people miss most of it. Dr. Bristow was in tune with the comedy of it all. Much as I tried, I could not keep up with his friendly ribbing at the Capital City Classic pep rallies. At least once a month as we sat next to each other in meetings, I could count on his inimitable chuckle to let me know that there was something going on worth listening to.
I’m sure Clint wasn’t perfect, but he was all right by me. We shared sweat and laughs together, and both were a privilege and a pleasure. He was a competitor, a mentor and most of all, a friend. Catch ya later Dr. Clinton Bristow. It was truly an honor. I hope we don’t let you down.
— Mason is president of Jackson State University in Mississippi.
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