Transforming an Institution

Longtime faculty member Dr. Ralph Vance supports hiring an archivist for UM Library

UM senior Sam Hall studies in the J.D. Williams Library. A new gift from longtime faculty member Dr. Ralph Vance is aimed at enhancing the library as a research tool for students. Photo by Kevin Bain/Ole Miss Digital Imaging Services

OXFORD, Miss. – Having taught future doctors at the University of Mississippi Medical Center for 45 years, Dr. Ralph Vance understands the importance of supporting an education through research.

“When I was coming up, we didn’t have internet,” said Vance, a 1968 and 1972 graduate of UM and UMMC, respectively. “You couldn’t just run home and do research online; you had to go to the library to get that done. So, the library had a real face to me.

After retiring from UMMC 12 years ago, Vance moved to Oxford, where he’s president of the Friends of the Library, the support society for the UM Libraries. He hopes his recent $50,000 gift to the organization will help improve the ambiance of the J.D. Williams Library, enhancing the welcoming, comfortable research center that he remembers.

Vance believes the library’s goal of hiring an archivist tasked with collecting and preserving its history will help transform the library into ground zero for students’ pursuit of knowledge.

“A lot of data is stored digitally,” Vance said. “That’s what an archivist can help with: getting all that in order. And it can’t be done overnight. It’s going to take a while, so we’re probably going to have to hire an assistant too.”

It’s an area that will need continuing support, the donor and alumni volunteer said.

“People who want to make a difference at the university should give to the Friends of the Library,” he said. “Your dollar will go where it is needed.”

Vance’s gift and others will help accomplish goals for which resources have been insufficient, said Cecilia Botero, UM dean of libraries.

Besides supporting a university archivist, areas of need include:

  • Purchasing general research materials, including online database subscriptions
  • Enhancing special collections with materials needed to help recruit and retain faculty members esteemed in their fields of study
  • Procuring equipment for the IDEALab, a space dedicated to teaching new technologies, preparing students to meet employers’ expectations in the workplace
  • Establishing an endowment to support a graduate assistant

“We are extraordinarily excited about the potential gifts like Ralph’s hold: increasing our informational offerings in support of both instruction and research and providing access to technology, both established and emerging,” Botero said.

Vance hopes his gift will inspire others to make similar contributions to the Friends of the Library.

“I think setting an example of giving is very important,” he said. “There are a lot of entities at the university that have little trouble raising private support. But this is an opportunity that will allow people to be proud to step up to the line and say, ‘I’m going to help.’

“I’d like to think that I can be a part of that – of a welcome-back-to-the-library sort of phenomenon.”

After medical school, Vance completed an internship, residency and fellowship in oncology. He was then asked to stay at the Medical Center and teach.

“I said I’m going to stay one year, and 45 years later, I walked out,” Vance said. “I couldn’t have taught that long without loving it. I didn’t realize when I started how fun it was going to be to look at a young student and see a lightbulb turn on and realize that I had a little bit to do with making that happen.

“It was one of the most pleasant lives that anybody could wish for.”

Vance, a Jackson native, and his wife, Ole Miss alumna Mary Douglas Allen Vance, of Canton, were introduced in sixth grade. They married after Vance finished medical school and have two adult children.

Besides his involvement with Friends of the Library, Ralph Vance has served as national president of the American Cancer Society and on the Oxford Film Festival board of directors. He is involved with United Way of Oxford and Lafayette County and serves in the vestry at St. Peter’s Episcopal Church.

Douglas Vance, who sings in the St. Peter’s choir, has served on the Yoknapatawpha Arts Council board of directors and is involved with the Cedar Oaks Guild.

“As president of the Friends of the Library, Ralph has led by example with his generous gift and gentle leadership,” said Sarah Frances Hardy, of Oxford, immediate past president of the group. “Gifts like his will enable the J.D. Williams Library to increase in a significant and meaningful way all of the wonderful things that are already happening.”

The Friends of the Library Endowment is open to support from businesses and individuals. Gifts can be made to by sending a check, with the fund’s name noted on the memo line, to the University of Mississippi Foundation, 406 University Ave., Oxford, MS 38655 or by visiting

For information on supporting the UM libraries, contact Daniel Wiseman, senior director of gift planning, at or 662-915-7601.