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Alcorn president dies on campus; remembered for his passion for ASU

Alcorn State University President Clinton Bristow Jr. is remembered for his commitment to the historically black university and his deep concern that students received the education they needed to go on to successful careers.

Bristow was found dead on a campus track Saturday night, just days before classes were scheduled to start. He was 57. An autopsy was scheduled. Funeral arrangements are incomplete.

Bristow had led the 3,500-student university since 1995. A memorial service is tentatively scheduled for Friday.

“He was a great role model for African-American men,” said Alcorn’s student government president Larry Duncan, 22, a senior. “He taught us to reach for the top so we can succeed.”

He said Bristow’s mantra was “ASU equals CEO” and referred to the university as the “Academic Resort.”

Bristow was credited with improving the physical campus at Alcorn, improving the graduation rate and heavily recruiting non-black students, a goal set forth by a complicated lawsuit settled a few years ago.

Recently retired Alcorn administrator Malvin Williams was named Sunday as the university’s interim president. He will serve until a permanent replacement is found.

The focus Sunday was on Bristow.

“You know you have a really significant man in front of you,” remembered James Clifton, chairman and CEO of Gallup Organization, a global public opinion polling firm. “He had one of the most charismatic personalities I have known in 10 years.”

Clifton, whose organization was working with Bristow to create a leadership training program at Alcorn, described the university president as “loaded with charisma.”

Bristow held bachelor’s, doctorate and law degrees from Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill., and a master’s degree in business administration from Governors State University in University Park, Ill.

“Clinton was an outstanding, charismatic leader and tireless advocate for the 3,500 students at Alcorn State as well as for the seven other historically black colleges and universities in Mississippi,” Sen. Trent Lott, R-Miss., said in a statement Monday.

“Clinton was a Mississippi treasure, and we shall miss him terribly,” Lott said.

Lester Newman, president of Mississippi Valley State University, another historically black college, said he met Bristow more than 15 years ago when both were deans at other colleges.

He and others praised Bristow as a man who constantly worked to make his school a better one so its students could succeed.

“One of his strong suits at Alcorn was that he was deeply committed to move people into graduate school,” Newman said. “Alcorn has started to develop a reputation for moving people to the next level.”

Alpha Morris, the treasurer-elect of Alcorn’s alumni association, said student achievement was Bristow’s first priority, including after they’d left Alcorn.

He stressed the importance of students either entering the job market or going on to graduate and professional school, said Morris, also a sociology professor and chair of the social sciences department.

She said the alumni met with Bristow on Saturday and discussed some concerns they had about the university with him.

“He took notes,” she said. “Those notes were going to become realities.”

Perry Taylor, an 18-year-old sophomore, remembered how Bristow stayed up three days straight after Hurricane Katrina, making sure there was enough gas on campus so students could drive home. He made sure those who couldn’t leave campus were OK, too.

Taylor said he and a couple of friends living in the dorm told Bristow they didn’t feel comfortable staying there. Bristow allowed the men to stay in rooms in the campus police dorm for a few nights.

“That’s why I respect the man,” Taylor said.