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Clinton Bristow

When stricken, Alcorn President Dr. Clinton Bristow fell forward, those who found him said. It was the only gear he had.

Alcorn wasn’t just the place Dr. Bristow worked. It’s where he lived — in every way. His spirit, his enthusiasm, invigorated the place.

A big-city man who had made it in Chicago — lawyer, businessman, real estate specialist and president of the fractious Chicago Public School Board — Dr. Bristow turned his career focus to higher education.

And Mississippi is very fortunate his new career path took him about as far from big-city life as a scholar could go, to the remote and beautiful Alcorn State University at Lorman.

We are all saddened, horribly saddened, at the loss of this leader who died Saturday on the campus during an evening run.

We’ll miss Dr. Bristow for what he did during his 11 years as Alcorn president, but also for what he was. He was attentive. In conversations, he was listening and you knew it. He was caring.

This was a man with four higher education degrees from prestigious universities who could live and work anywhere in the world. But, as students said, he always had time for them.

He didn’t bark orders. He led. He didn’t lecture young people to be like him. He just showed the traits of honesty and good humor and friendliness to all.

Anybody with a lick of sense could see this was a man to emulate. His vision to transform Alcorn into a “communiversity” and an “academic resort” will be his legacy.

Dr. Bristow knew that Alcorn’s geographic isolation created special challenges in attracting students, but he believed in lifelong learning and expanded programs to Natchez and Vicksburg to make higher education more accessible.

Alcorn wasn’t for just any student, he said. But it was the place for a student who wanted to make a commitment to learning.

Dr. Bristow also saw the special challenges faced in the communities of Southwest Mississippi. He wanted people and elected officials in area towns to increasingly look to Alcorn for service and problem-solving.

Indeed, in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, he pointed out that the university was ready to provide expertise on rural water systems, power — almost any other needs small towns had.

That’s the way Dr. Clinton Bristow was — always looking ahead, always looking for ways to improve, never wallowing in self-pity or talking about how bad things were. Just ready for tomorrow.

Fate has taken him. At 57, we can all agree it was far too soon. But as he always looked forward, the university family must, too.

The grief is real because the loss is real, yet classes started as scheduled. That was a testament to the fallen president. Perhaps the strongest testament possible.