Leslie Banahan Leaves Lasting Legacy at Ole Miss

Campus leader retires from UM after 29 years of service to students

Leslie Banahan, University of Mississippi assistant vice chancellor for student affairs, will retire May 31 after a 29-year career at the university. Photo by Kevin Bain/Ole Miss Digital Imaging Services

OXFORD, Miss. – Leslie Banahan, University of Mississippi assistant vice chancellor for student affairs, is retiring after nearly three decades of having what she calls the “extraordinary” opportunity to serve students alongside her colleagues. 

Banahan, a native of Granite City, Illinois, has worked at Ole Miss a combined 29 years. During her career, she took jobs at other places but always returned to work here. She looks forward to retirement but takes comfort knowing she has made a difference.  

“Working in higher education is an extraordinary job,” Banahan said. “I feel so fortunate to have the career I have had and to work with like-minded colleagues who are all committed to a higher purpose, to work every day with young people and to try to help them achieve their goals and dreams. Not everyone gets to do that.”

Interim Chancellor Larry Sparks said Banahan, who retires effective May 31, definitely has made her mark on the university. 

“Leslie is the embodiment of our commitment to serving students,” Sparks said. “She will leave a lasting impact on Ole Miss, especially her work with the Columns Society, the Ole Miss Food Bank and the Common Reading Experience. We thank her for her time, energy and leadership in advancing the university.” 

Banahan is a 2018 winner of the Thomas Frist Student Service Award, which honors those who go above and beyond in the service of students.

Leslie Banahan is presented with a memento from members of the Columns Society, which she established at UM. Photo by Kevin Bain/Ole Miss Digital Imaging Services

She also established the Columns Society, which is a group of 14 men and 14 women who serve as the official hosts and hostesses for the university. She modeled the idea after the University of Georgia’s Arch Society, which she advised when she worked there. She brought the idea back to UM 12 years ago and received strong support from UM’s administration and enthusiasm about participating from students.

Serving as editor of The Ole Miss Experience textbook was another source of pride for her, she said.  

Working closely with students at Mississippi’s flagship university has always been special to her, she said. Even when she took jobs elsewhere, she kept coming back to Ole Miss because of the opportunity to do that. 

“It’s the mission of the University of Mississippi that keeps me coming back,” Banahan said. “I think I was just really drawn to the idea of access for students in the poorest state in the country and how transformative education can be, particularly in Mississippi. That just really connected with me.” 

The work won’t be that easy for her to give up. 

“I’m going to miss knowing students’ stories and how they got here, learning about their families and hearing about their dreams,” she said. 

Besides helping students, she also made a difference in the life of one of her co-workers, Charlotte Pegues, who was in dire need of a kidney transplant. Banahan was a match, so she donated a kidney to Pegues in 2016. 

Banahan’s first job at the university was in 1976, as assistant director of university publications. Campus has changed a lot since then, including a more diverse student body and increased academic offerings, she said.

“We have some premier, marquee academic programs we didn’t have when I started here,” Banahan said. “I think that attracts some incredibly bright, creative and talented students, who do some amazing things here and then go on to do even more amazing things. We have changed for the better.”

Relationships are still important at Ole Miss, just as they were when she started here, she said. 

“I think we are still an institution that values relationships,” Banahan said. “My advice to new employees here is to take the time to invest in people, and get to know people and their stories. That is key to success here.”

Banahan, a native of Granite City, Illinois, has worked at Ole Miss a combined 29 years. Photo by Kevin Bain/Ole Miss Digital Imaging Services.

Banahan said she plans to relax during her first year of retirement. After she gets some rest, she plans to travel and spend time with her grandchildren. She would like to garden more, too, as well as read and become more active in her church, St. Peter’s Episcopal. She also would like to take up some freelance writing and editing. 

“There are some things I’m going to miss terribly,” Banahan said. “But, overall I think I’m going to enjoy the freedom that comes with retirement.”

Brandi Hephner LaBanc, vice chancellor for student affairs, praised Banahan for her service to students. 

“It has been a true honor to work alongside Leslie Banahan the past seven years,” Hephner LaBanc said. “Leslie has been a consistent voice for students for many years, and has had her hand in many of the key changes and enhancements throughout the Division of Student Affairs. Her passion, grace and enthusiasm for the University of Mississippi will be missed.”