Southern Methodist University

and Beyond

 

    Gregory liked university from the start, was making A’s in English, studying in the library, and attending Highland Park Methodist Church when his parents received the disturbing letter. Earlier that year (1954), in another letter dated March 9, a Methodist minister known in Mulberry had described the school.


    It was with pleasure that I received your letter today and it was with deepest appreciation that you would write to me to ask about S.M.U. for Gregory.  Tuesday night is about the only night in the week when I am free so there is nothing doing here at the church and I have come to the office to have a “chat” with friends through the medium of the written page.  I wish that I could sit down and talk with you, Clayton, and Gregory about the school.  I would begin my suggestions by saying that I would have a long talk with someone before he goes down there to enroll.

    May I give it to you on both sides, as I see it; I think that is what you want and I think that it is what you should have.  I believe that Gregory goes to Bonham High.  If he is an A student I don’t think that he would have any trouble—unless it would be with his Freshman English—if he keeps up with his daily work from the beginning he will have no difficulty but it is the course where they try them out.  In Harold’s section of Freshman English there were 76—I believe—and 73 failed the first examination.  He and two others passed.  Of course, they give them the second trial before a final grade is given.  I would suggest that he keep up from the beginning and don’t get to trying too hard.  Relax and be at ease.  Too many fail from over effort and tension.  If one gets by or when one gets through with his Freshmen English the rest of the way is a smooth as riding in a Cadillac (if that is the way that you spell it).

    Next, it is a rather large school in the city and as much as I regret to say so it is Blue-Blood-Society to the Nth degree.  In this respect it ALL depends on what one is looking for and what one wants from a school.  Honors do not come to one at S.M.U. without being in either a Fraternity or “Sor.”  If Gregory wants to spend enough money to be in a “Frat” the sky is the limit to what he can do or get.  There are three groups in S.M.U. outside of the Athletic Department.  There is the group (No. 1 in influence and prestige) that belongs to a “Frat” or “Sor.”  There is the group that finds fellowship and companionship in the life of the Churches of Dallas.  The other group is the lonely, blue, forsaken and forgotten ones.  There is not too much overlapping or mixing with each other among these groups.  There is nothing wrong with the “Fraternities” at S.M.U. They are expensive to be sure.  Morals in the “Fraternities” are just as high as elsewhere.

    Judging from the men that I have known from other school and having had a son in S.M.U. and further after being Pastor in Dallas I am willing to say that S.M.U. is one of the great schools of the World.  It depends on what one wants to do when he has finished but I think that within certain fields that it has greater influence out in the business and professional world than any other school in the Southwest.

    You may not agree with this but if he thinks of going to any other College or University I would not send him to Austin College for the first year or two.  I believe that it is much better to get into a large University in the freshman year than to do so a year or two later.  The reason for this is that there is an adjustment between High School and College, as you know, and it is best to get it at first than it is to get certain attitudes in a small college and then have to have them changed again at the university.

    I think that this ought to be said: A large university does not give very much Religious Influence, the students MUST seek and find that for himself.  If I was seeking a school for Religious Guidance for my son I would send or suggest to him McMurry or Southwestern.  McMurry has the greatest religious influence about it of any school that I know, but S.M.U. has things if one wants to seek for them that one cannot find in many schools.

    In going to college—as you know—one breaks the family ties but I would suggest to any boy going to S.M.U. who was coming from a medium-size town High School and Church to find him a place in the life of a medium-size Church where he could find fellowship with the youth and where the Minister could get to know him and he could get to know the Minister.  When ANY problem arises go to his Minister and seek and find the help he needs.  I think that some of the finest work that I did in Dallas was in giving council to young people.  May I say it as humbly as I can but all most every week there were from one to three or four young people from S.M.U. in my office and I believe that often they found the help that was the difference between success and trouble.  What I did any Minister would be glad to do if the person would let his desires be known.

    It looks as though we may go back to Dallas in June and if we do there is not a thing that we would not do for Gregory at any time.  If we should go I would like to have him working in our Church.  This going to Dallas is all between us and is not to be told....

    Yours Gratefully, Guy E. Perdue


    The other letter:


November 15, 1954

Dear Mr. and Mrs. Hall:

    Your son’s dormitory counselor, Bill Wolfe, advised me of your recent call and explained the situation concerning your son here in our dormitory.  I have talked with John [Gregory] and his roommate separately and also with some of the young men who live in the vicinity of John’s room.  I do not believe that John should have any fear of any physical harm, but there is a serious problem of which John tells me that you are aware.  I think that it would be wise if it would be possible for you to come to Dallas so that we might have the opportunity to discuss this with you.  Young people with abnormal attitudes and behavior are a serious threat to themselves in a dormitory situation, and I think that it would be advisable if we had additional information concerning John’s background so that we might help him make the adjustment to college and group living.  I am leaving on my vacation the first of December, and I hope that it will be possible for you to meet with me prior to that time. 

    Sincerely yours.



    The week before the dormitory director’s letter to his parents, Gregory had written home:


    Last night X__ and I were at the library.  He left before I did.  Some boys were hanging around outside.  They asked him where I was.  He came back and told me so I went back to the room.  X__ had told them I wouldn’t be out for quite a while.  When I came out they were gone.  I don’t know what they intended to do....                                                                        

    Last night Mr. Berner, the housing director, came up and said he wanted to see me.  I went down to his office and he said that he just wanted to get to know everyone better.  He asked me various general questions and we talked about S.M.U.  He said he was sure that I was doing well because there were no deficiency reports.  He asked me if there was anything I didn’t like.  I thought that would be a good time, so I told him everything.  That the boys might want to take me somewhere.  He said he was sure they wouldn’t actually hurt me, although certain things like that did happen.  However, the victim must be a good sport.  He told me he didn’t approve of what they did, but he almost said it was my fault and he made a long spiel about living in the group.  I admit that most of the things he said are true, but they didn’t apply much to me because I get along fine with all the other boys in the dorm.  William told me that he heard some of the boys saying that all this nonsense was going to stop.  I haven’t been bothered this week and so maybe all this will blow over.  I was talking to Mr. Berner when you called.  It sort of scared me when they came and told him that Gregory Hall’s folks were trying hard to get him on the phone.  I didn’t know whether someone was dead or the house had burned.


    A silence fell between them as the roommate’s neglect of classes continued, and his sexual adventures were the subject of all his talk. The roommate found others to tell, then moved out. The following Friday night was cold and rainy. Gregory did not go home to Mulberry. The library closed at the usual time; he returned to his room and bed. There were the usual noises, then a sudden, loud beating on his door. He opened to find four other residents, and they had a leader. “What are you? A queer?” And other words he did not know. Becoming angry because he didn’t respond, they were clear with signs. He closed the door, turned the lock. They beat again, and after a while went away. He knew that the continuation of his study at the university was threatened. The dormitory director moved another roommate into his room. This individual was popular with everybody, then he, too, moved.


    photo: the view from Gregory’s dormitory room during his freshman year at SMU


  It seemed for a while that nothing more would be said, but he was informed one day that his mother was in the dormitory director’s office. Gregory joined them; his father had not come. The director asked him if he wanted to continue living in the dormitory or move somewhere off-campus. He looked at his mother, who said nothing. He said he wanted to stay in his room; it didn’t matter that he wouldn’t have a roommate. The next time he went home, Clayton asked what the young men had said. He hesitated, then...yes, he said. Edna declared, when she heard that Gladys was going to Dallas alone, “They’ll kill him!”

    The remainder of the school year passed without another incident. He had done well in all his courses; final examinations were about to begin. The leader of the Friday gang went in and out of his room with questions and references to class notes. Gregory was glad, but learned two years later how his mother had tried that day to say, “He’s normal. I know he’s normal.” After she left, “everybody in the office laughed.”

    Actually, it was from two “wise old doctors” in Sherman that she’d heard already, “It’s a shame, just a shame,” they said, looking at the floor between them, not at her.


I wish Gregory had laughed too, said proudly,

“You got it right, and I know who I am.

You won’t be able to make me unhappy for the next thirty years.”


When drafted into the army he didn’t say, “I’m gay,”

but served with a top secret clearance, hidden even to himself, and silent.

When an Austin College dean, considering him for employment, asked,

“Do you expect to marry?” he didn’t lie:

“I hope to be happy.”



    1957 April 3: [in a letter home]  Today I got a nice letter saying that I have been elected to Phi Beta Kappa...a scholastic honor. The fact that I am elected in my junior year doubles the honor, they say. I write because I want you to share the moment. For all the work I have so far done, this is my reward.... When I graduated from high school, Daddy said he had no commencement exercise, as I did, and I was sorry. You both tell me that all you have is mine (and Gary’s), and I tell you now that all I will ever be, I owe to you. I know that if honor comes in this way alone, I still will not have met God’s commandments in obedience and love, but I have tried.... Do not believe I think this so great. I know myself too well...feel unworthy when I consider others who were not chosen...fulfill my own potential...realize that whether or not I deserve...depends not so much on what I am now, as upon what I may become in the future, how well I use what I have...whatever I do, no matter what it is, the test lies in each future day. They say the fee and pin will be about $23.... There will be an impressive initiation and banquet. I love you all and hope you understand.


    Dearest Greg, [his mother replied]  Well, another wonderful honor goes to my son, and how very pleased I am—but honestly, I didn’t expect it. I really thought that you had quit working so hard and would make less. Gee! but we are proud of you. Not so much for the honor, but just because....  I have not the least doubt but that you will make your mark in the world. By that, I mean, in the best way. Fame is nothing, wealth is nothing, honor is nothing—unless it leads to a better, more consecrated life, and that is what you said in your letter. Few people realize this.... May God bless you, as he sees fit, is my only prayer.  I am afraid to ask for more.  In asking this I know I am safe....


    1957 April 9:  My dear family, ... I did not expect the gift.... How is it that such good things come? Today as I was going to lunch Mr. Nystrom told me the English department has recommended me for a special scholarship next year, which will pay full tuition...so pleased to tell me...happy that I have been able to save you this money. I talked with Dr. Powers, my history teacher, whose scholarship puts me in such awe. He thinks I should go to a good graduate school.... All encourage me and have confidence in my work, even if I don’t. Actually, I am upset with this change of plans.... I do not know what to do, or what is best...so tired and tense....

    May 14:  Honors Day: Family came down for the occasion and we had a happy time.... As I walked home the moon was shining big, bright, and low in the east...so glad you came.

    May 28:  Dr. Powers said my final exam was exceptionally good and I will make A in the [European history] course.

    September 2: [letter] Now it is 10:15 and I know that you must be at our church. I know every move and aspect of your whole day, how you will stay at home this afternoon.... I will do what is before me with as much steadfastness as I can, although I do not see much future...no real happiness outside of Mulberry. In my saner moments when I face squarely my own abilities and longings....

    I am back from church. Dr. Steel talks in the simplest, yet most profound, way. I wish the people of Mulberry could have heard his sermon, for they would understand every word.... It is wrong to trouble you...these outpourings. I’m recovered from that mood and can forget for a while....


    1958 January 12: Saturday Night, 9:30. I was strongly tempted to call you. I need advice so badly...and tried to reevaluate my chances.... If I let this scholarship go by I give up English [academic career] forever, but if I take it—then what?... Sunday Night. This whole day I have studied to forget the decision that faces me....

    It is my life and I must decide...so lonesome for someone to talk to. Monday Morning. Today I will tell Dr. Bond.... I only know I don’t want the ordeal of English in graduate school, and don’t want to teach.


    1958 May 19: ... letter from the University of Texas. Another $500 scholarship! All the SMU librarians are happy. They feel they helped me, and they did....

    We watch in every paper what is happening in France. I know Henriette must be worried...glad to know she is still willing to have me come.

 

    In an American literature course at SMU, Gregory read two books that (he thought) prepared him for the coming trip. The first was Portrait of a Lady by Henry James. As he marked the following passages, he was thinking of himself:


    [Isabel Archer speaking] “I like places in which things have happened—even if they’re sad things. A great many people have died here; the place has been full of life.”

    “Is that what you call being full of life?”

    “I mean full of experience—of people’s feelings and sorrows. And not of their sorrows only,

for I’ve been very happy here as a child.”


    ... she had an immense curiosity about life and was constantly staring and wondering. She carried within herself a great fund of life, and her deepest enjoyment was to feel the continuity between the movements of her own soul and the agitations of the world. For this reason she was fond of seeing great crowds and large stretches of country, of reading about revolutions and wars, of looking at historical pictures....


    ... and Mont-Saint-Michel and Chartres by Henry Adams.


    1958 June 7: [Gladys]  We are thinking of you today as you are down at the ship now and we all want you to be very happy. We are quite content. None of us wish for more just now. Had a letter from Dean drumming up the trip for Gary. It is very nice of them to take Gary. I am so grateful for that.... You are about leaving on the boat now. I have paid all our bills in Bonham. Everywhere I went they spoke of you and this wonderful trip.  Everyone was nice and seemed very pleased. Pauline said, “We are so proud of him.”


    July 6: Michelangelo’s David in Florence. Fiesole. Walked in the afternoon....


     At the end of the trip, Gregory stayed another seven days in France. Henriette told him about her father, whose proud portrait in uniform hangs in the dining room of her home. He died young in the First World War. Henriette sent Gladys a roll of lace from her mother’s wedding dress. She drove Gregory to Chartres, then on to the chateaux country, and treated him to a sumptuous birthday meal in Loches, where Joan of Arc met the king. She said, “There is something I want to tell you before you leave. Not now, but before you leave; something important.” He reminded her later, but she turned aside.



    August 1: Leaving was sad.... She stood on the sidewalk and waved as we drove away. I am now on a train to Cherbourg. Passing Caen, I saw the illuminated spires of two great churches built by William the Conqueror.

    August 4: [journal] Tonight the ship is surrounded by a thick fog and its whistle blows eerily every three minutes. I have just come from talking with an Austrian who sits at my table. Coming to Canada on business now, he fought for eight years in the war. I asked him about Europe’s future. He said people in Europe have little confidence in America because of Hungary. For three years, three times a day, America’s Radio Free Europe called on the people of Hungary to make a revolution. America promised arms and help. The small people of the street made a revolution, but America gave them no help at all—a great betrayal. He says so much of Europe, Poland especially, has been lost to Russia because of bad errors in U.S. policy. I asked if he is optimistic and he said, “Yes, very” because his country has passed through two great wars and life goes on. Only this is the reason for his optimism.  “Above all,” he said, “it is important to make the Russians understand that they will be resisted by force if they invade another country.”


    I think of Henriette...how she “will not darken the door of other’s happiness with her shadow.”

    ...myself...so much alone, and insecure with people...then a temporary escape comes on. I have been busy at nothing, forgetting, and even as I succeed and find relief, life passes. I am young and do not want to “forget” through all the years of my life, as I forgot during the teen-age years, and let them pass, as though not missing the things that others enjoy. This restlessness continues while there is hope, but hope does not last forever. As much as anyone, I have looked at other people’s lives and said philosophically, “the world is just no easy place, and life is hard,” but acted then as if those words didn’t apply to me, gone on expecting and hoping....

    More than ever, I believe I have faced this thing that is a part of my life, but I do not yet foolishly suppose that I have killed youthful hope, so that the rest can be resignation.  That would be too easy, leaving fifty years ahead, finally realizing that I will not be happy.

    No, I will not long have sealed this letter until I think again of home and trees and pond and room and family, and fret again. Then will begin the long series of tests that have to come before I can say, finally, that if my life really is to be like this, then I will hope only for the temporary respite that comes from worthwhile work. I have hoped for another time of contentment and security that I knew at home, but reason tells me it is too much to expect. I pray to God I will find some day some kind of job among people I can help, regardless in what way.

    1958 September 28: Please do not worry about me.... I am glad to be me. I would not trade away my problems, because they spring from my very self. This same thing that makes me, when I look out from the library windows to trees in the distance, almost weep to be free of everything around, is the same that makes me, when I am free, take such delight in a flower...how else could I go through Europe in ecstasy at every turning?

    ... in my own way I want to be proud of myself too, not for grades, etc., but because of who I am.... I want you to take great delight in Gary. It is good you have him, and when you did.... I would not have him changed, and if ever he, for being what he is, falls into some discouragement, then I will want to help....

    It is not so easy to make school satisfying because of the nature of my studies. My courses in library science are a lot of dull reading and routine that crowd me to complete and at the same time obscure the rewards that can come of library service. I will stick it out...come what may, I will not worry or work myself to death. Always in the past I never excused myself for any deficiency. I will do my reasonable best...


First as Student (1954-58) then as Staff (1972-1979)


    1977 July 28:  (Gladys) Today is Greg’s birthday. How well I do remember 41 years ago tonight. At 8 o’clock I went to bed. For an hour or more I had been walking around the grounds of the hospital. At about 10 o’clock he was born. How time flies....

    July 31:  Greg worked so hard on the utility room, then in the park today.  How can he hold out?  He wouldn’t tell me any news from the library this weekend.  Said I wouldn’t understand.  

    December 7:  Greg seemed to be in very good spirits. I believe he is doing well at his job, though he will never admit it....

    December 27:   Greg came home looking very rested. He seems so happy. He had a talk with [SMU Provost] B__, with S__ sitting in. He said they were very nice and understanding, and B__ seemed to think he could get Greg to change his mind [about resigning], but the other man who knows Greg better didn’t show any hope. B__ asked Greg to think about it some more and reminded him that from now on it won’t be so bad. But Greg won’t change, I feel sure. He has thought about this too long. One man, the S__ man, said (and Greg has had many long talks with him), “Well, John, I don’t have a farm to go to,” as if to say, if I did, I’d do just what you’re doing. He has a wife and five children. A man under these circumstances doesn’t quit his job. Mike told me to tell Greg that now is the time to write his book. Save all my letters for him. They might help.


    1978 January 25: I have resigned my position as Director of Central Libraries, Southern Methodist University, Dallas. No regret. Looking forward to the next, uncertain phase of my life. Remember confirmation on finishing Herman Hess’ Glass Bead Game. The “Father Confessor” story.


    Such as we have nothing to say to men for whom all goes well. Before a man needs redemption and the faith that redeems, before his old faith departs from him and he stakes all he has on the gamble of belief in the miracle of salvation, things must go ill for him, very ill indeed. He must have experienced sorrow and disappointment, bitterness and despair....

    Every so often I have planted a tree, but too few, far too few. Some say a man should not die without having planted a tree and left a son behind. Well, I am leaving behind a tree and leaving you also.... God sends despair not to kill us; He sends it to awaken new life in us.  


May 1991, Returning once more...


    ... was to attend a memorial service for A__ B__. She had been a staff member when I entered the library for the first time as a student. She was a student with me at “library school” in Austin (1960). We served on a panel airing student discontent, the day Miss Stallmann said I meant “humanism,” not “humanitarian.” A__ returned to Fondren Library while I went on to Army, work at Austin College, London, and Peace Corps. After I became “Director,” I tried to persuade her to take some wider responsibility (she was the best, brightest and most cheerful librarian I knew), but A__ said firmly, “No.” In the book she gave me when I left, she enclosed a note, “Dear John, May you have pleasant Reading and happy traveling, always!” A__ “took her own life” after working forty years in the library at SMU.

    At the service I felt invisible. With a trimmed beard, some gray, a white shirt open at the neck, Levi jacket and jeans, black boots, I waited while the library was closed and the staff assembled. When a few approached afterwards, L__ S__ said, “I kept wondering, Who is that old farmer?” The note in her gift book said, “John, Thank you for your patience as you tried to teach me to be a librarian, or more importantly, to be a better human being. May the future be all that you want it to be.” When I first told her of my decision, she said, “You can’t resign. Your whole identity is to be the library director.”

    After the words for A__, on the sidewalk leaving, Dr. Lawrence Perrine, stricken with multiple sclerosis, could say, “I know who you are. You’re Gregory Hall.”  He had been my freshman English professor, reading poetry to us, whom I tried so hard to please; but when I returned as a librarian, we never mentioned those student days of mine. Heading home, I was pleased that he’d recognized me at last.