Dewey Knight Leaves Legacy of Putting Students First

Ole Miss community mourns the loss of longtime student advocate

Dewey Knight, retired associate director of the UM Center for Student Success and First-Year Experience, was one of the center’s foundational staff members and was honored many times for his service to students and the university. Photo by Megan Wolfe/Ole Miss Digital Imaging Services

OXFORD, Miss. – The University of Mississippi lost a valued community member and student advocate this week with the passing of Dewey Knight, retired associate director of the Center for Student Success and First-Year Experience.

One of the center’s foundational staff members, Knight, 72, was an Oxford native who enrolled as an Ole Miss freshman in 1966. And long before the center was established, Knight was known as the person who could help any student in the Office of Financial Aid.

“If I ran across a student who needed something or needed financial help, I knew I could have them talk to Dewey,” said Rachael Durham, who worked as a regional admissions counselor before going to work for Knight in the Center for Student Success in 2014. “I will never forget the day he came down to my office in the admissions office and sat down and said, ‘How would you like to come work for me?’

Dewey Knight

“Dewey said a long time ago that he felt like Ole Miss picked him to work here, and I feel like Dewey picked me to help continue his legacy.”

Durham has promised to continue working to fulfill Knight’s legacy, taking on many of his responsibilities as assistant director for first-year experience when Knight retired from the university in 2018.

Knight’s colleagues recognize him as someone to emulate because of his commitment to the students he served on campus.

“Dewey was the definition of a higher education professional who puts students first,” said Kyle Ellis, director of the Center for Student Success and First-Year Experience. “It wasn’t uncommon for Dewey to be at the office from 7 in the morning until 7 at night because he wasn’t going to leave a student’s email unanswered or problem unsolved.”

Everything Knight did was for the students or for his staff, Durham said.

“He could be on a tight deadline, but if a student popped in, he would stop what he was doing and talk to them,” she said.

Knight was awarded both the Thomas F. First Student Service Award and Bonita C. Jacobs Transfer Champion award for his work with students at the university.

The Student Veterans Association presents the Dewey Knight Leadership Award to the student veteran who shares Knight’s intrinsic leadership traits during its Veterans Alumni Gala each year.

“He was a great guy – a Marine who loved taking care of people and who is invaluable to campus,” said Andrew Newby, who worked alongside Knight as assistant director of veteran and military services. “The way he interacted with military-connected students is what led us to create the Dewey Knight Leadership Award.”

Colleagues of Dewey Knight (center) wish him well on his last day in the office at the Center for Student Success and First-Year Experience in December 2018. Knight, remembered for always putting students’ interests first, died this week. Submitted photo

When Newby interviewed for his job, Knight was the one who gave him the campus tour. It was Knight’s charm in presenting not only the university’s history, but his own history with the campus community, that that helped convince Newby to be a part of the university.

“He was a great representative for Ole Miss and he will definitely be missed,” Ellis said.

Besides his work on campus, Knight was an active member of St. Peter’s Episcopal Church, where he was senior warden and taught Sunday school for more than 20 years.

He is survived by his wife, Theresa Holliman Knight; three daughters, Macy Knight Rives, Bethany Reed Hairston and Angela Michele Reed; one son, Robert Miles Knight; a brother, Walker Sorelle Knight; and seven grandchildren.

Visitation is from 2 to 4 p.m. Friday (Nov. 13) on the Knight’s patio at 315 Garner St. A memorial service is set for 11 a.m. Saturday (Nov. 14) at St. Peter’s Episcopal Church in Oxford.