Bidding a Fond Farewell to Rhodes
It might be said that a tear came to Carole Troutt’s eye when she began reflecting on the things she will miss the most at Rhodes. Memories of her 18 years at the college as a presidential partner flowed as freely as though they happened just yesterday. She remembers it all, from the phone call when Dr. William E. “Bill” Troutt said about Rhodes, “We really need to think about this” to the many commencements, each special in its own way.
Just before the Troutts decided to come to Rhodes, their Nashville home had been undergoing a 10-month renovation. Both were happy at Belmont, where Dr. Troutt had been president since 1982. But just as so many are drawn to the special quality that Rhodes radiates, so too were the Troutts.
“First it was Bill who was convinced,” she recalls. “He came to Rhodes on a Thursday; his interview was Friday morning. He was one of about 12 candidates interviewed, and he was really impressed with the search committee. Rhodes was already a good school. Lots of history, lots of tradition, lots of success. And yet, they wanted more. They knew they could be more. He was so intrigued by that.”
On his third interview visit, Carole joined him. By then, he was the sole candidate. They fell in love with the people they met and with Memphis, a city that both were familiar with, having grown up not too far away, but one that was on an upswing. “We really got excited about what could happen here.”
Nearly 20 years later, “what could happen” has proven to be quite a lot. The accomplishments of any presidential tenure tend to take shape in concrete ways—physical growth, a strengthened endowment, a more diverse student body. In the eyes of a presidential spouse, however, it is often the more personal moments that stay front of mind, and that is certainly the case with Carole Troutt.
Soon after the Troutts arrived at Rhodes, the college began building Paul Barret, Jr. Library, which most agree is Dr. Troutt’s most significant contribution to the changed campus footprint. What Carole remembers from those years is an event that occurred during senior week, the semester before the library opened.
“The senior class that graduated right before we moved into the new library were so disappointed that they weren’t going to be in the new library,” she says. “So they lined up from Burrow Library to Barret Library and formed a ‘bucket brigade,’ passing books along from the old library to the new. It was such a joyful occasion, and it gave them a sense of ownership and inclusion that they were feeling they were going to miss.”
Some memories involve individual students. The Troutts got a call one November from alumnus Peyton Bell ’09. Bell met his girlfriend while in line at the first-year reception held at the presidential home on Morningside Place. He was asking the Troutts to leave their home on a Sunday night so that he could propose to his girlfriend, Kate (Kate Parker ’09).
“Her best friend was in on it. The ruse was that we were out of town and she was feeding the dog for us. But she told Kate she couldn’t get over to feed him, and asked her to do it. I left the key in the mailbox. And she said, ‘Yes!’ ”
Yes to the dog feeding and yes to the proposal, that is. The couple married the next summer.
It takes a dose of chutzpuh to ask the president of your college and his wife to abandon their home so you can propose to your girlfriend. But that’s exactly the sort of trait Carole has come to admire over the years in the literally thousands of Rhodes students she has met.
“They have Type A personalities and totally full calendars, are smart, have beautiful hearts, great attitudes. They are always wanting to help, always engaged in everything they do, purposeful. They are one of a kind,” she says.
As memorable as the students have been, the award-winning Rhodes campus also holds a special place in Carole’s heart. “I love the cloister in Palmer. And I love the bench to the right as you walk into Fisher Memorial Garden,” she says, noting that the garden is especially beautiful in May for commencement ceremonies. “You can see why the students would be so attached to it as their graduation place.”
The hive of activity that commencement entails, the people everywhere, the happiness—those are the memories that form a catch in her throat as she thinks back to the moments she will miss at Rhodes. “It’s hard for me to talk about this,” she pauses. “I’ll even miss the lump in my throat that I have every year when the moms say goodbye to their freshmen.”
Although the Troutts will miss Rhodes, Carole says they are excited about the prospect of having a looser schedule. The role of a college presidential couple is 24/7, and after so many years at that pace, the simpler things in life have great appeal.
“I’m looking forward to gardening. We have a house in New Orleans. We don’t have a lot of green space there, mostly brick, but enough. I even enjoy pulling weeds! And I’m looking forward to starting my sourdough and getting that going again. Bill likes sourdough bread and, as we all know, it’s good for you.”
And like most couples, the Troutts have a travel bucket list. “He has not been to Oregon yet and I have not been to Nevada. Maybe in the first year, we want to check those two off. We hope to see more of our family. This summer, we hope to view the synchronous fireflies and solar eclipse in East Tennessee. This winter, we want to see a Pacific storm on the northern end of Vancouver Island. Then we will think about tackling the larger world.”
Wherever they travel, the Troutts still have a stake in Memphis. They have purchased a condo downtown for visits back to the city they’ve called home for 18 years. Don’t be surprised to run into them at a Grizzlies game or a local restaurant. They’ve finally got the time.
— By Lynn Conlee