Joe B. Wyatt had been chancellor for four years when I came to work at Vanderbilt in 1986, and he had a reputation as an excellent steward of Vanderbilt’s finances. The Texas native didn’t look the part of the academic, with his athletic physique and tan that revealed his love of outdoor pursuits–but he recognized early on how important Peabody could be both to Vanderbilt’s future and to American K-12 education. The thriving Peabody College we have today owes a great deal to Wyatt’s vision.
I interviewed Alexander Heard when I was writing a historic piece about the Vanderbilt/
Peabody merger, and I could see why alumni who’d been students during his time as chancellor held him in such reverence and with such affection. He was thoughtful, erudite and genteel.
I interviewed Heard’s predecessor, Harvie Branscomb, a few months before he died at age 103. I was writing a piece about Rhodes Scholars, and I went to Branscomb’s home on a warm winter day. The living room was like a sauna, but Branscomb had a chill, and he was fussing as he tried to turn on the fireplace. I remember his marvelous collection of Brazilian santos on the wall, a reflection of his work to build Vanderbilt’s relationships in South America. He was hard of hearing but related in rich detail the story of his first venture outside the South at a fancy New York City cocktail party in 1914, where he dumped his drink in a potted plant in order to avoid getting tipsy.
Gordon Gee was a gregarious man who used to drop by staff offices unannounced. He had a distinctive voice, and because my office was near the door, when I heard him on the hall I would pass the word down the line: “Look sharp; the chancellor’s on the floor.” He would flit through like a hummingbird, and had an amazing facility for remembering names.
Vanderbilt’s official “style,” I am told, is to refer to our new chancellor as Nicholas Zeppos. Zeppos arrived at Vanderbilt the year after I did, and I have never heard anyone refer to him as anything but “Nick”–not “Chancellor Zeppos,” not “Provost Zeppos,” not “Professor Zeppos.” Certainly not “Nicholas.” But “Nick” seems a bit cheeky to someone of my generation who has always addressed faculty members by their titles, not their first names–although if you meet him on campus or in the halls of Kirkland, that’s what he’ll ask you to call him.
Anyway, Zeppos is a name with pizzazz. I think we should use it in print whenever possible–starting with my profile of him on page 32!