Callings: ‘No Excuses’

Tidwell, Jones enjoy UM's educational environment, take on role as advocates for education

Kathy Tidwell (left) and Flora Jones work in the Department of Contractual Services Management in the Johnson Commons. Tidwell, who has worked for the university for 54 years, shared her passion for continuing education with Jones, who is aiming for a doctoral degree. Photo by Srijita Chattopadhyay/Ole Miss Digital Imaging Services

OXFORD, Miss. – For anyone who has a question about the University of Mississippi, Kathy Tidwell almost certainly has an answer, and, on the off chance she does not, she always knows who to ask.

Tidwell has gained her knowledge over a 54-year career at the state’s flagship institution, but she is prouder of another distinction. Her highest achievement, she said, is helping others find their passion like she did.

Tidwell graduated from Lafayette High School in 1968 with plans of leaving Oxford behind. Then she met her husband, Larry Tidwell, a college student at Ole Miss. They had known each other for years, gone to the same church, lived in the same community. But one day they saw each other in a different light, she said. 

“I met my husband, and things changed,” Tidwell said, smiling.

Tidwell decided to give Oxford a chance and, in December 1968, applied to work in men’s housing as a records clerk. Over the next 54 years, she climbed the ranks, watched the university change and took on her current position, manager of contractual services and director of university licensing.

While she worked, Tidwell also earned a Bachelor of Business Administration and two master’s degrees in education and counseling.

“It’s a learning environment,” Tidwell said. “We are allowed to take classes, and you get to meet a lot of wonderful people. I always say, ‘There’s no excuses not to go back and get your degree.'” 

In the years since, she’s encouraged everyone with whom she’s worked to earn their degrees too, said Flora Jones, administrative coordinator for contractual services management and the ID Center

“Mrs. Kathy, she was just egging me on, saying, ‘You need to go back to school,'” Jones said. “She knew it was important to me because I would always talk about it, saying I was going to get back in it. She’d say, ‘Well, now’s the time.’

Kathy Tidwell

“She was that supportive in anything with education; she’s so supportive of all of her employees.” 

Jones, who had not completed her bachelor’s degree when she began working for the Department of Contractual Services Management in 2012, said Tidwell reminded her again and again that she could earn her degree while working for Ole Miss.

“Mrs. Kathy never let up,” Jones said. “She was like, ‘You’ve got to do it. There’s no excuses.’ She said, ‘You’d be crazy not to take advantage of it.'” 

In 2017, Jones completed her bachelor’s degree and crossed the graduation stage with her daughter, Jazlyn Farmer. Now, Jones has finished a master’s degree in higher education and will begin working on her doctorate in fall 2024.

“I was a first-generation student and I always said, ‘Once I get my bachelor’s, I’m done,'” Jones said. “But once I got my bachelor’s, Mrs. Kathy said, ‘You might as well keep on going. No excuses.'” 

It was Tidwell’s constant support through the years that Jones said kept her going, even when things were hard.

“I always say don’t stress so much on the small things,” Tidwell said. “The world is not going to end if you make a mistake.”

Now, Jones has done the same for her daughters, students and co-workers.

Flora Jones

“After I went back and did it, she gave that responsibility to me,” Jones said. “She said, ‘You’ve got to encourage the others to get in school. Help them do their applications or whatever they need.’

“So, that’s the role that I carry now.” 

Four of Jones’ daughters are graduates or students of Ole Miss. On most days, at least one daughter stops by contractual services to visit Jones and Tidwell and talk about their classes.

“Sometimes they get here before I do,” Jones said, laughing. “I told them they could go to any school they wanted to, but they wanted to come here.”

In 2021, Jones began teaching EDHE 105: Freshman Year Experience, where she hopes to continue to instill the lessons Tidwell and others at the university taught her.

“(Students) come from all walks of life, and some of them come and they are so terrified and scared because they are in an entirely new place and away from their parents for the first time,” Jones said.

“I tell them, ‘Anytime you feel nervous, anytime you feel scared, I’m going to be here. You’re always welcome to come over here and talk to us. If we don’t have the answer, me and Mrs. Kathy, we’re going to find it.'”