No disrespect to Thomas Wolfe, but John H. Napier III, a 1949 University of Mississippi history graduate, has irrefutable evidence that you can, in fact, go home again.
That evidence can be found in the lives of his parents, native Mississippians who ventured out West not long after they married. They lived and worked in Arizona and California, where Napier’s father, a lifelong educator, earned a master’s degree at the University of California at Berkeley and a doctorate at Stanford. After 20 years, the couple returned to their roots in Pearl River County, bringing back to their home state the benefits of experiences “abroad.”
The parents, John H. Napier Jr. and Lena Mae Napier, inspired Napier and his younger brother, Eastman Francis Tate Napier, also a UM alumnus, to establish a scholarship fund in 1989. Through his brother’s estate in England, John Napier III recently arranged an additional $70,000 gift to the scholarship fund, which pays tribute to his parents’ lives and benefits students on the Oxford campus.
“Both my parents were dedicated to academic excellence, and they were both very bright,” Napier said.
His father’s extensive resume included positions as the first president of what is now Sierra College in Auburn, Calif., and as superintendent of the Picayune school system.
Napier is equally proud of accomplishments made by his mother, who was a career woman 20 years ahead of the World War II-era “government girls.” Lena Mae Napier earned three college diplomas and then worked in her father’s bank in Picayune. In 1918, she persuaded her conservative father to let her move to Washington, D.C., where she became an Internal Revenue Service auditor.
He also served more than four years in national security at the Pentagon and completed his active duty military career at Maxwell Air Force Base in Alabama, where he was an instructor and historian of the Air War College.
Napier, who lives with his wife, Cameron, in Ramer, Ala., is a historian, whose book “Lower Pearl River’s Piney Woods: Its Land and People” was published by the UM Center for the Study of Southern Culture. He also authored “Air Force Officers Guide” and a history of his family.
The roots of both his father’s and mother’s families run deep in Mississippi, which accounts for Napier’s decision to go to UM after growing up in California.
“It appealed to me because it was a residential institution and was located in a small town,” Napier said. “Once I got (to Ole Miss), I loved the place, and I always have.”
Napier earned a prestigious Taylor Medal for his academic performance and was active in Sigma Chi fraternity, Air Force ROTC, and student newspaper and yearbook staffs.
Francis Napier eventually followed in his brother’s footsteps at UM. After graduation he moved to France and then England, where he lived until his death and enjoyed a career in foreign currency exchange. Although his will designated most of his estate for the benefit of Oxford University in England, John Napier was able to direct a gift to the brothers’ alma mater. The funds were added to the Napier Scholarship, which assists UM students from Pearl River or adjacent counties.