Several of the University of Mississippi’s most distinguished alumni were honored with dinner and awards Friday night.
The dinner and subsequent award ceremony began with an opening prayer from Bobby Bales, Alumni Association president-elect, followed by the recipient of the Outstanding Young Alumni Award, Candie L. Simmons.
Simmons has been the marketing director for Regions Bank since 2006 and is a board member of the Cure Sickle Cell Foundation, Make-a-Wish Mississippi, and is an active member of the International Community Ambassadors Network.
“It makes me feel awesome,” she said. “I absolutely enjoy being in marketing and working in the community, and it just feels good to be nominated and selected out of so many people to be the 2017 outstanding alumni of the year.”
Simmons was greeted just outside by Regions Bank City President Alon W. Bee, who worked with Simmons since her employment as a Regions marketing director in 2006. Bee praised her and the pace of progress she’s shown within the company.
“It is so well-deserved. As I have been associated with various people at the bank, and it’s especially good to see someone recognized for their accomplishments at such a young age,” Bee said.
After Simmons, the Alumni Hall of Fame grew its ranks by five last night, with Don Fruge, Walton Gresham III, Tom Papa, Mary Sharp Rayner and James E. Keeton.
Papa graduated from Ole Miss in 1957, and at the end of his career in 1998, he donated $20 million to the construction of the Gertrude C. Ford Center for the Performing arts.
“I don’t think I could have made it without Ole Miss,” Papa said. “It’s been a part of my career all the way, and I’ve had a pretty good career, and I give Ole Miss credit for it.”
Through the foundation, Papa continues to support the university’s endeavors, including a recent $25 million donation to the new STEM building.
New inductee Fruge is the current professor emeritus of law and holds a resume of eight other positions at the university, including head golf coach and president and CEO of the UM Foundation.
Keeton, the dean of the University of Mississippi Medical Center in Jackson, was honored by the Alumni Association for his six-year career as the dean.
“I spent most of my career at the UM Medical Center, but to be honored like this, it’s very, very cool,” Keeton said.
After a 27-year stint in private practice as a pediatric urologist, Keeton joined UMMC as a clinical director of pediatric surgical services. During that time, he oversaw the construction of a two-story surgical suit for the Batson Children’s Hospital.
“The one mission was to improve the health of this state, and I think we inched that along, and in that process, we had a damn good time,” he said.
Morgan Freeman congratulated Keeton as a longtime friend, praising him for his career.
“Somehow, he’s a good friend of mine, somebody I really, really, really like a lot, and what he’s done for the UM, particularly the medical school, is very outstanding,” Freeman said.
Toward the end of the award ceremony, former Governor of Mississippi William Winter received the Alumni Service Award for service to the university and the Alumni Association over an extended period.
As governor, Winter helped pass the Mississippi Education Reform Act in 1982. Over the course of his career, Winter served as chairman for seven Mississippi organizations, including the Alumni Association.
Winter declined to give a speech with his reward, but Bale spoke on his behalf, thanking friends, family and faculty.