UM Community, Friends Mourn Passing of Carolyn Ellis Staton

University's first female provost remembered as trailblazer, mentor and friend

Carolyn Ellis Staton

OXFORD, Miss. – Carolyn Ellis Staton, respected and beloved as a University of Mississippi law professor and administrator, was fondly remembered by family and friends Monday (May 22) during memorial services in Paris-Yates Chapel. Staton, 71, died May 19 at her home in Oxford.

A trailblazer who became the university’s first female provost, Staton joined the Ole Miss faculty in August 1977. During her 32-year tenure, she served as a professor and interim dean in the School of Law, associate provost and provost before her retirement in 2009.

“She was truly remarkable in every way,” Chancellor Emeritus Robert Khayat said. “Nobody ever had a better partner at work. She was straightforward, but always kind and treated people with respect.

“I will always remember her for her intellect, creativity, kindness, tolerance and strong value system.”

Gloria Kellum, vice chancellor emeritus of university relations, remembers Staton as a “dear friend and transitional leader who helped change the face of Ole Miss.”

“Dr. Staton definitely strengthened the academic community here,” said Kellum, recalling the professional camaraderie and abiding friendship the two shared. “As the first two women on UM’s executive management team at one point, we worked together on various university projects.

“I have always had an immense respect for how much she loved the university and its students. She was truly a champion who created many educational opportunities for them.”

Douglass Sullivan-Gonzalez, dean of the Sally McDonnell Barksdale Honors College, described Staton as “a powerful and strong leader on campus, tender mother, dedicated spouse, scholar, thinker and crafty seller of books.”

“We celebrate Carolyn Ellis Staton’s extraordinary life,” he said. “She truly made a lasting, positive impact upon all of us who worked with her and knew her well.”

Along with university administrators, faculty, staff and alumni, the Honorable Hillary Rodham Clinton paid her respects. The former U.S. Secretary of State and three other Yale University alumni flew in to offer condolences to the family of her longtime friend and law school roommate.

“It is always hard to lose a friend – someone who made you a better person,” a tearful Clinton said during her remarks. “No matter what else I may have been, to Carolyn, I was always just a friend.”

Clinton remembered Staton as “a kind of surrogate confessor and godmother” to a lot of their fellow students. She also said that Staton was a leader in the Barrister’s Union and one of the few women who could hold her own in a debate.

“Carolyn was sympathetic, but she was also very clear that each of us had to prepare to play our part in whatever was coming in the future,” Clinton said. “And boy, could she make people laugh!”

Born in Vicksburg to the late John and Marguerite Shibley Ellis, Staton earned her bachelor’s degree at Tulane University, a master’s degree at Columbia University and her Juris Doctor from Yale University.

Staton was warmly remembered by both her predecessor and her successor in the provost’s position.

“She was an unusually outgoing person, and we became immediate friends,” said Gerald Walton, provost emeritus and Staton’s predecessor. “Carolyn Ellis Staton will be recognized because of her intelligence, vision, professionalism, dedication, loyalty, commitment, good judgment, organizational skill, understanding of higher education, commitment to academic excellence, professionalism and collegiality.

“Ole Miss is a stronger institution because of her skill, understanding and drive.”

Morris Stocks, UM professor of accountancy who served nine years as provost, said Staton spent her life improving the lives of others.

“She reminded us of the privilege we have to create opportunities for others,” Stocks said. “I’m thankful for what she taught me. Through Carolyn Staton’s example, many of us have grown to love and cherish the unique challenges we have at this public institution.”

As provost, she facilitated the creation of the university’s residential colleges and Croft Institute for International Studies. She expanded on the ideas of others in building the Sally McDonnell Barksdale Honors College.

Staton was a dedicated and loving wife of 33 years and a loving mother to three boys. She found great joy in her travels overseas and prided herself on enabling her children to travel.

She was a veteran of the U.S. Army Reserve JAG Corps, where she achieved the rank of captain. She served on the Defense Advisory Committee on Women in the Service in the 1990s at the Pentagon.

Staton is survived by her husband, William Staton of Oxford; sons William Staton and his fiance, Katrina, of Washington, D.C., Thom Staton of Asheville, North Carolina, and Michael Staton of Hooksett, New Hampshire; and brothers David Ellis of Hilton Head, South Carolina, and Robert Ellis of Memphis, Tennessee.

Memorial contributions in Staton’s memory may be made to the Carolyn Ellis Staton Scholarship in Law Endowment, University of Mississippi Foundation, 406 University Ave., Oxford, MS 38655.