The first lady of Ole Miss: Sharon Vitter

Posted on Nov 13 2016 - 6:14pm by Lana Ferguson

Oxford is a little different from the town in eastern Kansas where Sharon Vitter grew up, just an hour away from the University of Kansas.

She remembers living on a farm and family vacations being if it rained on a Thursday, her dad would pack the family up in the car, and they’d drive to his aunt’s house in Colorado.

After graduating high school, Sharon moved the hour way to attend the University of Kansas, graduating with a pharmacy degree in 1978. She worked at a hospital in Kansas City for about six months, while taking the state board exam and receiving her license, when a friend made her an offer she couldn’t refuse.

“I had a friend moving to California,” she said. “I hadn’t been west of the Rocky Mountains or east of Kansas City, so you know, young people take adventures, so I moved to the Bay Area.”

She moved to California in early 1979 and worked at another hospital until she passed the California board test, got her license and landed a job at the Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital Stanford.

Stanford was where Chancellor Jeffrey Vitter was finishing his Ph.D and where the Vitters would meet.

“I don’t know if we can say that,” Sharon laughed softly, covering her smile with her hand, laughing a little louder. “We met in a bar.”

Happiness fills her eyes when she tells the story of how they first met.

“This was before cellphones and texts,” she said. “There was a Chinese restaurant in Menlo Park; it was a little hole-in-the-wall restaurant, so if you ordered takeout, you would show up, place your order, and they’d send you across the street to the British Bankers Club, which was a bar-restaurant to wait, then you’d wait 15 to 20 minutes to get your food.”

After a 12-hour shift at the hospital, Sharon had gone to the British Bankers Club to meet up with some fellow nurses. As fate and circumstances would have it, as she was moving to leave, Sharon met Jeff.

“We visited for maybe five or 10 minutes and I was like, ‘I’m going to take my friend home,’ and he goes, ‘Can I get your name?’ I said ‘Sharon Weaver.’ He goes, ‘Can I get your phone number?’ I said, ‘I’m in the book’ and left.”

The next week, her phone rang, and Jeff was on the other end.

“I was pretty impressed that he tracked me down,” Sharon said. “So, we went out for dinner to a Chinese restaurant, but a different one so we could sit down and eat.”

The two began dating in May 1980. After Jeff finished his dissertation, he moved to Providence, Rhode Island, and taught at Brown University, visiting California over holidays and breaks.

“We dated long-distance for about a year-and-a-half. So, we decided we weren’t getting any younger, so either decide to make a commitment and get married or go our separate ways,” Sharon said. “So, we got engaged and were married in August of 1982.”

The wedding was in Sharon’s hometown in the church where her parents were married. They began their married life in Providence and spent more than a decade there. Since, the Vitters have been in many college towns. They’d been to the University of North Carolina, Purdue University, Texas A&M and the University of Kansas before coming to Ole Miss.

“After being away for 31 years, it was full circle to get to go home,” Sharon said. “It was a good time for me to be there for family and different things going on. It worked out well.”

Jeff is from New Orleans, so Sharon said they have been visiting the South for more than 30 years. She loves the milder climate with the short winters, while still having the change of season. She said the Midwest and South are similar in how welcoming and nice the people are.

Sharon said she couldn’t imagine not living in a university town.

“University towns are special places,” Sharon said. “They all have their own vibe. There’s just a great aliveness to university life that I really enjoy. Just being around young people gives you a positive opinion of the future of the country and what the future will bring.”

Working with all of Ole Miss’ alumni and students has been her favorite part of Oxford. She said being chancellor or first lady isn’t about Jeff or her, but rather the respect people have for the university and its figure head.

She said she feels a great responsibility to do what is best for Ole Miss and to make sure her actions are always positive.

“I feel like I am representing the university, so I want to be a good steward, and I think Jeff feels the same way,” Sharon said. “With that, there’s so many opportunities to meet great alumni that come back and visit or keep in touch with the university. It’s very inspiring and rewarding to know that these people love Ole Miss as much as Jeff and I have come to.”

-Lana Ferguson