‘If You Can Get a Sue, Get a Sue’: Keiser Retires from UM

Assistant to the chancellor looks back at storied Ole Miss career

Sue Keiser (right), UM assistant to the chancellor, hangs out with Don Cole, beloved UM administrator and professor of mathematics, who retired in 2018. Keiser, considered a go-getter and a ‘people person’ by colleagues, retires from the university in December following a storied career. Submitted photo

OXFORD, Miss. – Sue Keiser has always impressed those around her with an ability to get just about anything done. 

So much so, that one of her former colleagues called the trait being a “Sue.” 

Keiser, who retires this month as the University of Mississippi‘s assistant to the chancellor, came to work at Ole Miss in 1998 when then-Chancellor Robert Khayat was looking for a new person to run his office, manage personnel and take care of other matters. He needed someone to keep the ship running. 

He got a recommendation from attorney Jack Dunbar, who said he had worked with a tremendous employee. 

“He said to me, if you can get a Sue, get a Sue,” Khayat remembered. “She’s smart as a whip, has great energy, is charming and cares about everyone. People just can’t rave about her enough.” 

The recommendation proved to be spot on, he said. 

“He was right,” Khayat said. “She came in with a positive attitude. She will make chicken salad out of chicken feathers. Give her a problem and she will always find the solution. She always did that without breaking a sweat.” 

He was only two years into his tenure when he hired her, and they worked closely for 11 years. 

“I was the quarterback, but she was the offensive coordinator, and she did a great job.” 

Keiser said it wasn’t really a hard sell to get her to come to work at Ole Miss. When she was discussing the job responsibilities with Khayat, Keiser, who had worked for attorneys most of her career, asked her prospective new boss what each day would be like at the university. 

There wasn’t really an easy answer, but the challenge sounded exciting. 

Sue Keiser is retiring after a career that began in 1998. Photo by Kevin Bain/Ole Miss Digital Imaging Services

“He told me there would be something new and different every day, and that I would never be bored,” Keiser said. “I was thrilled to learn that, but I was not at all pleased that, at the end of the first week, all I could do was sign his name with the automatic signing machine.” 

Her first day on campus was Honors Convocation in the spring of 1998. It was a soft start to something she said wasn’t as easy a transition as she probably made it seem to those around her. 

“We had a great time celebrating student success at Honors Convocation that evening, but the remainder of the week was filled with people and events that I knew nothing about,” Keiser said. “I didn’t have a clue. 

“By the end of the week, I wanted to call Judge (Neal) Biggers and ask for my old job back as his courtroom deputy.” 

But she settled in, and those around her were drawn to her natural confidence and leadership. She found great personal reward in being part of the university’s growth during Khayat’s tenure. 

“Working with Chancellor Khayat was such an honor for me,” Keiser said. “To see the university flourish and grow under his leadership was so rewarding to everyone on his staff. It was the adventure that he had promised.” 

Keiser, a UM graduate with a bachelor’s degree in English, serves as a member of the chancellor’s leadership team, has served on steering committees for chancellors’ inaugurations, and is on the University Staff Appreciation Standing Committee. She won the Staff Council overall staff member award in 2006, among many other accomplishments. 

She said helping with the 2008 presidential debate and seeing the spring Commencement grow each year are among the highlights of her career. The university coming together to put in the major event in the Grove each year was always heartwarming, she said. 

“It really is a coming together of the entire campus to celebrate the completion of a full academic year,” she said. 

Chancellor Glenn F. Boyce said it’s been an honor to work with Keiser, who is well-known and beloved across campus. 

“Through her esteemed service to the university, she is well-known and much-beloved by the Ole Miss family,” Boyce said. “As the longest-serving member of the university’s leadership team, the impact of her retirement will be felt deeply across the institution and beyond. 

“Sue has been a pillar at this university, and she will be greatly missed, but her work and spirit will live on for decades at Ole Miss.” 

Larry Sparks, who served as interim chancellor and is retiring as UM’s chief financial officer this year, has worked with Keiser for many years and values her friendship. She amazes him with her tireless energy and devotion to Ole Miss. 

Sue Keiser (left) chats with Larry Sparks, vice chancellor of administration and finance. Both Keiser and Sparks are retiring from the university this month. Submitted photo

“I have witnessed her, at times, working day and night seven days a week, all while maintaining her positive attitude and commitment to doing the right thing the right way,” Sparks said. 

“She is truly an invaluable and, often, behind-the-scenes asset for the university.” 

Sparks knows Keiser, ever the people person, will never be a stranger to those she came to know and love at the university. 

“I’m honored to call Sue my friend as well as my colleague,” Sparks said. “I wish her well in her retirement and look forward to continuing our friendship for many years to come.” 

Dan Jones, professor and dean emeritus at the UM School of Medicine, said when he was chancellor from 2009 to 2015, he had an amazingly strong and supportive leadership team. The roster included Keiser, Morris Stocks as provost and Sparks as chief financial officer. 

“The glue that held the leadership team and the university together was Sue Keiser,” Jones said. 

“Sue is an unassuming, highly intelligent, compassionate, highly organized and loving person. Of all the people I’ve known and worked with over a long career, she is the absolute best at loving and caring for people who are disagreeable and hard to love.” 

He believes her positive contributions to the university, but also her care for others, can’t be measured. 

“And on top of all of that, she cared for me and took care of me and the university,” Jones said. “She has been such a gift to so many people in the university for many years. She will be missed.” 

Stocks, who also served as interim chancellor, and is professor and Don Jones Chair of Accountancy, calls working with Keiser a privilege. 

Keiser’s success can be chalked up in part to a few things, he said, including her love for the university and how she grows to love the people she encounters on campus. This strong and diverse network of connections gives her a lot of insight into how major university decisions affect everyone on campus.

“She has a unique ability to consider who in the university community might be impacted by decisions, and does her best to encourage the inclusion of those people in the decision process from the very beginning,” Stocks said.

Besides feeling heard and seen by her, many have also benefitted from her kindness and giving nature, he said. 

“I have been a frequent beneficiary of her generosity,” Stocks said. “For many years, Sue has been a calming and stable force at the University of Mississippi, and in my professional life. I appreciate her tremendously, and wish her the very best in her retirement.” 

Keiser’s brother Tommy Tucker, a resident of Pineville, Louisiana, owns two cabins in Lafayette County, where Keiser said she’ll spend much of her time sitting fireside, reading in the winter and sitting poolside to read in the summer. 

Sue Keiser and her husband, Ed, a retired UM biology professor, plan to travel the country in their truck with their dogs, Max and Belle. Sue Keiser retires from Ole Miss this month after a career that began in 1998. Submitted photo

She has other big plans, too. 

“I have a group of friends who have been waiting on me to play cards and travel more,” she said. “I’m excited that now there will be much more time to just live, laugh and love – a lot!” 

She also plans to spend more time with her children, Mark, Skip, Julie and Jen, and with her four grandchildren who live in Oxford: Krissy, Kailey, Caden and Andie. 

Keiser and her husband Ed, a retired UM biology professor, also have two dogs – Max and Belle.

“We’re just kind of anxious to get in the truck and ride until the dogs tell us to go home,” she said. 

She’ll settle in to retirement and reflect on her career, but she’ll never be a stranger to those she got to know at Ole Miss, she said. 

“One of the greatest joys of this job has been getting to know and work with the most wonderful people,” Keiser said. “I will no longer be on campus, but I know we will remain friends and stay in touch. I’m excited about that.”