BROWSE BY:     Title Number Subject Creator Digital Content

Interview with Joanne Corbett, December 2, 2002 | UNCW Archives and Special Collections Online Database

pdf icon Get PDF Version
Interview with Joanne Corbett, December 2, 2002
December 2, 2002
Joanne King Corbett discusses her career in the English department. Dr. Corbett was the first female Ph.D. hired to teach at Wilmington College. She began teaching part-time at Wilmington College in 1954. In 1959, she started teaching full-time, and in 1963, Dr. Corbett became department chair, remaining in this post until 1976. Dr. Corbett retired in 1999. In this interview she reflects on her teaching and scholarsly interests, her students and some of the people she knew at Wilmington College and UNCW, including administrators Dr. William M. Randall and Dr. William H. Wagoner.
Phys. Desc:

Interviewee: Corbett, Joanne Interviewer: Lack, Adina Date of Interview: 12/02/2001 Series: Voices of UNCW Length: 58 Minutes

Lack: Good morning. My name is Adina Lack. I'm the archivist and special collections librarian. I will be performing an interview today and interviewing one of our...

[audio off then on]

Lack: ...former faculty members. Please state your name for our tape.

Corbett: Joanne King Corbett.

Lack: Joanne K. Corbett. And that's Joanne, all one word?

Corbett: Yes.

Lack: J-O-A?

Corbett: N-N-E.

Lack: J-O-A-N-N-E. Great. Thank you. Ms. Corbett, can you explain to me where you were born and where you grew up?

Corbett: Okay. I was born in a little town in South Carolina that had uh... 500 people in 1929 and it has 500 people in 2002. And uh.. I went to uh... school at uh... Coker College in-- got my AB. You want this?

Lack: Yes.

Corbett: Okay. BA at uh... Coker College, uh... which is near uh... Macbee[sp?]. Then I went-- for graduate school, I went to the University of Montreal and uh...

Lack: In Canada?

Corbett: Uh huh.

Lack: Really? So you-- Coker College is in?

Corbett: It's in Hartsville, South Caroline.

Lack: South Carolina.

Corbett: It's a girl's school-- it was a girl's school. It's co-ed now. And uhm...

Lack: And then for your graduate education, you went...

Corbett: I went to the University of Montreal.

Lack: What brought you up to Canada?

Corbett: Oh, I wanted to go somewhere exotic, you know? If you're from a town of 500, almost anywhere is exotic. So uh... and I wanted to go somewhere that was slightly foreign and uh... I went there. Uh... I'd been accepted at both McGill and the University of Montreal. Uh... I chose the University of Montreal, primarily because it was French and uhm... and I wanted to, to learn French very well. And they had a superb English program and then uh... after that, after I got my Ph.D. there, I uhm... received a Fulbright Fellowship and I went to the Sorbonne for a year. And came home and was still restless so I went to uhm... Oxford for a term and had the privilege of studying with Lord David Cecil. Then uh... I wasn't quite ready to come home so I taught in uh... in Spain for about six months. I taught uh... I taught English there to people who wanted to uhm... to learn English and uh... (laughs) so I'm sure they all learned a southern accent.

Lack: That's great.

Corbett: And then I came home and then worked for the uh... and was in Korea for awhile as a reporter and then went back to Oxford for another term and uh... then I came home and got married.

Lack: Wow! I had no idea you had that international experience. So your degree up in the University of Montreal, was the coursework in English or French?

Corbett: It was in English.

Lack: Oh, I see.

Corbett: Yeah, but we, we had to take some French courses and I was very shy about I was speaking French so uh... I lived with a French woman who was uh... didn't speak any English and was about 50% deaf so I had to shout and, after that, I wasn't very nervous about speaking French so, when I went to Paris, it was quite easy for me.

Lack: Oh, that's wonderful. And you got your Ph.D. up in Montreal?

Corbett: Mm hm. Yeah.

Lack: And then you-- how is it that you ended up in Wilmington? Was that after you got married?

Corbett: Yeah, I married and my husband's a native of Wilmington so I came here in uh... in '54 and uhm... then I started uh... part-time at Wilmington College when it was in the Isaac Bear building opposite New Hanover High School. Uh... I taught part-time for two-- we run the quarter system there so I taught part-time for two quarters uhm.. made $200 a month, which just tickled me to death. And then I had my second child. The next year I went back and uhm... and became a full-time uh... professor at uh... the princely sum of $4,500 a year. So it was quite, quite-- oh, yes. Quite an increase. And then uh...

Lack: (inaudible)

Corbett: (laughs)

Lack: That was nice. That was after your second child so...

Corbett: And then uhm... in 19 uhm... 73, I became chairman of the department and uhm... stayed that until now, you know, I've got those-- I've got the (inaudible) let's see. I was the chairman for 13 years and then...

Lack: Oh, you started in '73.

Corbett: Can you stop that a minute?

Lack: Sure.

[audio off then on]

Lack: Dr. Corbett was explaining that, when she became chair of the department, it was actually in 1963.

Corbett: '63, mm hm.

Lack: And remained chair for 13 years?

Corbett: 13 years. And uh... and-- until 1976 and then Dr. uh... Dodson, Brooks Dodson, became chair.

Lack: Oh, well, that's great. Because we can interview Dr. Dodson. So that's great. We've had two successive chairs in our interview series. So when you started in 1963, it was still Wilmington College?

Corbett: No, I started in '58. Yeah, I became chairman in '63.

Lack: Right. Yeah. So you started full-time in '58?

Corbett: Uh huh, that's right, and it was still Wilmington College and then we moved to this campus in uh... 1961, and it became a four-year college. And uhm...

Lack: So what were some of the major issues facing you as chair from 1963 to '76? That's a long period of time.

Corbett: Oh, well, it certainly is. Well, becoming uh... a four-year college, for one thing. New curriculum, new faculty. Uhm... new budget. New books for the library. Everything was new so uh... certainly new to me, anyway.

Lack: So that, as chair, were you-- did you oversee hiring of the new faculty or was that done by the dean?

Corbett: It was done by the dean of the faculty. I was in on it but as far as really having any input, I-- you know, I would say I think this person's fine and everything but it was really up to him. He, he made the decision, not me.

Lack: And who was that?

Corbett: Dr. Paul Reynolds was dean of the faculty, uh huh.

Lack: _______________

Corbett: Yeah. And then I-- that position became uh... became a different position.

Lack: During this time, were there quite a few new faculty members that came to...

Corbett: Not so, not so much when I was there. They uh... they really started adding uh... well, of course, they added, you know, Brooks, his tenure, and then uh... Moore, after that, when the school really increased its enrollment.

Lack: So you remained chair until 1976?

Corbett: Mm hm.

Lack: And then after that did you continue teaching?

Corbett: Yes, I continued teaching, uh huh. And uh... the things that I probably liked teaching the most were uh... world literature, which is my specialty, and uh... and British lit and, at other times, I taught 20th Century American Lit, the short story. Uh... even uh... science fiction a couple of times. And uh... pretty much a variety. When I first started, in (laughs) in 1958, they said, "Well, if we don't have enough uhm... students for English, we'd like for you to teach Spanish and uh... and history, too" and Spanish I could have handled but-- because that was my undergraduate major but not history. So (laughs) I really panicked then. I brought home a history book and I thought, all of this is new material to me. But, anyway, I didn't have to teach it.

Lack: (inaudible) So you continued as a teaching faculty member. When did you retire?

Corbett: 1999.

Lack: Oh, recently.

Corbett: Yes, I was-- said I would teach until I was 70 and so that did it, 1999.

Lack: You retired in 1999 and, having come to Wilmington College part-time in 1954, you saw a lot.

Corbett: Oh, a lot of changes, yes. We, we...

Lack: (inaudible) in 45 years.

Corbett: We went from one little-- well, one old building on Market Street to uh... a campus [ tape glitch ] with uhm... three buildings. I remember there were a lot of pine trees [ tape glitch ]

[audio off then on]

Corbett: [ tape glitch - inaudible ] and so forth uh... were cut down but someone with more vision than I am planted oak trees and, of course, now they're so beautiful. Yeah, I, I love driving by, driving by there and seein' just what people with vision did.

Lack: I know. It is [ tape glitch ]

Corbett: Because if I had my way, the pine trees would still be [ tape glitch ]

[audio off then on]

Corbett: [ tape glitch - inaudible ]

Lack: [ tape glitch ] (inaudible)

Corbett: [ tape glitch ] (inaudible)

[ blank ] [00:10:40 to 00:11:36]

Lack: We're back. And Dr. Corbett, you mentioned, just while we were on the break, about the order of Isaac Bear. That's the name of a society...

Corbett: Yes, it is.

Lack: Why was that formed?

Corbett: Dr. Wagoner formed it. Uh... I should remember the year but I don't and it was uh... formed of the people who taught at the uh... in the Isaac Bear building, in other words, the building opposite United Way High School. And there were 13 of us. Uhm.. there were two in the English department, uhm... Jerry Rosselow[sp?] and, and me. And uhm... then the, the others were spread through other departments. So we still meet and we've added members since then.

Lack: Since then, it's grown to include...

Corbett: Yes.

Lack: ...people who have a history with the college?

Corbett: Who have a history with the college...

Lack: And for the university?

Corbett: Yeah. But who did not uh... did not teach at Isaac Bear. In fact, we have people on the board who uh... such as John Burney, who did a great deal for the uh... the college and the university but, obviously, was not-- did not teach. He was senator at the time.

Lack: What is the purpose of the group?

Corbett: Well, we provided a scholarship every year to uh... to uh... students-- a student and uh... the uh... that's our, our good works uh... thing that we do. And the uh... the other is to keep up with the uh... with the trends of the university and we had a program on the-- the-- all of the new buildings which are in the uhm... in the future which was very exciting to us. And uhm.. and then we uh... we also socialize and I guess remember old times, as they say, old codgers be.

Lack: Well, yeah, I think it's a great group and it's just-- the origins are interesting and it's good that you're continuing to meet.

Corbett: I think so, too. It was, it was totally Dr. Wagoner's idea so, again, you know, he was a man, as is Dr. Leutze, with uh... with vision and uhm... so I-- (inaudible) but we've certainly been enthusiastic about continuing the uh... the organization. We have good attendance and, you know, so we, we have our meetings in the boardroom in Alderman so it's nice to touch home base every now and then.

Lack: Right. That's great. You've mentioned Dr. Wagoner and I suppose you also knew some of the other presidents?

Corbett: Dr. Randall was president when I uh... when I was hired. In fact, he, he was the one, officially, who hired me.

Lack: Really?

Corbett: Yeah. So uh... I was really excited about uh... being, being hired. Scared to death. Uhm... back then, I didn't have to worry about what I was going to uh... do the next day because uh... people in my department were given a, a list of the assignments for 50 days and I remember we had one day and it said, "Instructor's choice". So that was, you know, that was the amount of freedom that we had but, but, in a way, you know, especially from the beginning, uhm... an instructive was really nice because I, I knew what I was going to do, you know, the next day-- day. We met five days a week and then uh... when we uh... voted as a faculty, uhm... having the semester system, I voted against it because I, I thought it meant Saturday classes and I had four children so that was a very personal reason I voted against it but, thank heavens, you know, we are on the semester system. It's much better for both students and faculty all around.

Lack: Right. That's interesting. So you managed to have four children and...

Corbett: Yes.

Lack: ...and starting in '58, you were full-time or...

Corbett: I was full-time in '59. I had one child in '57 and uh... when I started full-- no, I started part-time in '58 and, when I told them that I was pregnant, my-- not my immediate supervisor but one of the administration said, "I'll have to clear that if it's all right for you to uh... teach and, and be pregnant at the same time." (laughter)

Lack: That's something. Yeah, you had mentioned that. That's quite a sign of the times.

Corbett: It's a sign of the times and uh... of course, it was perfectly all right then, after the last two children, I, fortunately, was based here in the summertime so it didn't, didn't uh... interrupt anything.

Lack: Oh, yeah, that's...

Corbett: As far as teaching was concerned.

Lack: That's interesting. And must not have been too many women on campus at that time who were teaching college?

Corbett: No, I was the first woman Ph.D. here.

Lack: Really? That is quite significant, very significant. First woman Ph.D. on campus.

Corbett: On campus. Yeah.

Lack: Wow.

Corbett: Yeah, I think it was, you know, fairly good while-- I, I don't know when the, the second one came but it was uh... it was a long time. In fact, I think there were just two Ph.D.s on campus when I began. One was in uh... the chemistry department and uh... there was me.

Lack: That's right. There was a time when they were mostly-- there were quite a few master's level teachers.

Corbett: Yes, uh huh. That's true.

Lack: So you were...

Corbett: In fact...

Lack: ...(inaudible)

Corbett: know, most people did, did have masters and uh... to their credit, they worked on their Ph.D.s while they were uh... teaching and, you know, they'd go to Chapel Hill or wherever on the weekends. It was quite, quite a burden _______________. But it paid off in the end.

Lack: Especially when there wasn't a fast I-40 going through the state.

Corbett: And I was lucky. I had uh... got my degree-- I had been able to go straight through so...

Lack: I suppose some people thought you had lived quite a bit by traveling and getting all your education and everything and then getting married.

Corbett: I, I guess so 'cause, back then, not as-- I know, when I-- uh... spent a year in Paris, when I came back, there were all sorts of invitations to speak because uh... people sent-- I mean, young people said they didn't travel the way they do now. Now, you know, going to, going abroad is not any-anything unusual but uh... in a little town in South Carolina back in the (laughs) in the '50s, it, it was unusual.

Lack: How did you get interested in travel? Were your parents interested in travel?

Corbett: Oh, no, not particularly. I just uhm... I don't know. I uh... I don't know that it was any particular way I got interested. I-- my graduation present for, for my B.A. was a, a summer in Mexico and I think that, that uh... helped me see how exotic things were and I just al-- some people are born with a love of travel and I think I was one of them.

Lack: Yeah, that could be. Have you continued your travels?

Corbett: Oh, yes.

Lack: In retirement?

Corbett: Yes, uh huh, and I did before retirement, too. I've traveled with my uh... husband while he was uh... alive and then with my uh... with my daughter afterwards so...

Lack: That's nice.

Corbett: We uh... hit the road. Most of it's uh... well, in fact, all of it has been uhm... international. Uhm... great emphasis on, on the Middle East and Asia.

Lack: Really?

Corbett: So, yes, so we uh... we've been, we've been doin' that.

Lack: Oh, I bet. Well, yeah, that's a great opportunity and I suppose the college felt real lucky that you were in town and you were able to-- they could recruit you because...

Corbett: Well, I, I applied for the job.

Lack: Yeah.

Corbett: Yeah. So uh... I remember I was uh... I was so excited because I think that uh... I, I believe I was in Alaska with my husband at the time and uh... and I got a call, you know, offering me the job. So uh... my husband said, "It's perfectly all right with me but if you teach, now, you, you won't be able to have the freedom to go anywhere uh... the way you do now" and uhm... I said, "Well, I don't go anywhere" and, of course, anyway, there I was in Alaska (laughter) at the time. But uh... anyway, I was scared to death and uh... and just loved it. It was quite a different atmosphere because everybody, I mean, not all in-- knew all the uh... faculty. I knew almost all of the students. It's a small school and just a totally different era.

Lack: So, yeah, you mentioned that you were nervous about it but I suppose, at the end of your career, it was just second nature, I mean...

Corbett: I was nervous every uh... beginning of every semester in every class.

Lack: Really?

Corbett: I never changed. That first day. Because I always felt that that impression that you make on students the first day is, is very important and I remember one time when uh... I didn't have-- well, control is not the word but I, I had been too informal with the students and I never uh... I never had any control of that class after that first day. And I just set the wrong tone. So uh... not that I was a very formal teacher at all but I just set-- I remember that as one of my early uh... teaching fiascos.

Lack: I see.

Corbett: Yeah.

Lack: So you had come-- you would have kind of a formula or plan for the first class, set out the objectives and-- that's interesting.

Corbett: Yeah. I think that the interaction with the students, though, has just been wonderful. I uh... I think I must have taught half of Wilmington and it's so-- it's really lovely to see 30 years, 40 years later, you know, students uh... remembering uh... remembering what they learned and so forth or some of what they'd learned. The funny thing about it is, I've gotten to the point where I can't remember their names but I, I remember the grades.

Lack: Really?

Corbett: Always remember the grades and, most of the time, I remember where they sat but, of course, the name's what's important and that's the very thing I don't remember. (laughs)

Lack: That's interesting. That you'd remember the grades, good and bad. I remember when I interviewed David Miller, he said that, when he was a student at Wilmington College he said, everybody wanted to take Joanne Corbett's class because she's so pretty. (laughter) Did you know that?

Corbett: Well, I knew uh... David uh... in class and I know he was an A student.

Lack: That's funny. Yeah, he was-- that's...

Corbett: That's very nice.

Lack: Oh, yeah. He said, "Everyone wanted to take it..." because I was asking him about people to interview and I mentioned your name as someone I wanted to contact and he said, "Oh, yeah. Definitely." Then he said that. I just... (laughter) So. I suppose the student body has changed quite a lot, not only grown but did you have quite a few returning veterans?

Corbett: I had, I had some and, when I first started, of course, we were just a two-year school and then everyone uhm... that was going to college transferred so we only had them for two years and I used to-- I was, I was so attached to those, those early students, as I was to the ones later on, that I always hated that they were going on to Chappell Hill or State or whatever.

Lack: Right.

Corbett: But uh... I still remember uh... I remember lots of them. Uhm... when I was uhm.. chair of the department, I-- we went uh... Keenan, Keenan building, not auditorium, and I was walkin' up the stairs and I saw this white-haired man standing at my uhm... door and I thought-- when it was the time that we were doin' affirmative action and so forth and I thought, "Oh, my heavens, here's somebody that's going to ask me questions and so forth" and I, I took a coward's way out. I went down the stairs and came up the other stairs and I asked the secretary if she'd find out who it was (laughs) and so she did and it turned out to be a student of mine that I had 20 years before. But he'd changed so much, just as I had, and so uh... she found out his name but I said, you look familiar, what's your name? And then she told me. So, when I came up the stairs, uhm... he said, "Dr. Corbett, I know you don't remember me." I said, "Of course, I do remember you, you're so and so." (laughs) But uhm.. I had been primed by the secretary so...

Lack: Right. Right.

Corbett: Yeah, but I really uh... was-- and, and this certainly uhm... continued but they were-- I was especially close to them in those early years.

Lack: In the early years. When you really got to know them.

Corbett: Mm hm. Yeah. I was taking a walk the other day and I uhm... Ronnie Stateman, who stopped his uh... truck and said that they were having a, were going to have a reunion out at Bob King's uh... truck place and uh... I thought, my goodness, it's been 40, well, 40 years, I guess, since he's-- I think he was there in the '60s, so, well, maybe 30 years since I had him. He looks young to me, anyway. (laughter)

Lack: Well, yeah, if you've been teaching some of the people when you were teaching part-time could have...

Corbett: And then, of course, like everyone my age, I had the, the children of the children so I had the-- so that was uh... that was interesting.

Lack: Yeah. You got to keep up with them that way.

Corbett: Mm hm.

Lack: How did you like it, being administration, being a chair of a department? Was that very administrative back then? Did you have the same level of teaching duties?

Corbett: Oh, same, same teaching, yeah. Uh huh. And it was, you know, when I became chairman of the department, I think there were only four of us so certainly can't compare my chairmanship to that of the people that followed me because with, with growth came a, a-- it was a whole different ball game then. Mine was quite informal so-- but...

Lack: So when you became chair, there were four members?

Corbett: Mm hm.

Lack: Who were they, do you remember?

Corbett: Gary _______________, Isabelle Foushee[sp?] and uhm... Kyle McGowan. I think that was about it. Shannon Morton, whom I succeeded, uh... stayed for about a year after I became chair.

Lack: Oh. And then she retired?

Corbett: Yeah. She's 104 now.

Lack: Really?

Corbett: Still living. 104. That's-- Morton Hall is named for her.

Lack: I didn't realize she was still living. I mean...

Corbett: She's still living and she and her uh... they're in, I think it's Henderson, North Carolina, and uh... a friend of mine saw her about six months ago and said she just looks lovely.

Lack: Really?

Corbett: Yeah.

Lack: So she lives in Henderson.

Corbett: I think it's Henderson.

Lack: Wow.

Corbett: It's the same place that Tyrell is from.

Lack: Oh, okay.

Corbett: Because he came uh... when I think she was here for the uh... dedication of Morton Hall or maybe it was later on and he came up to her and she was, you know, quite old then and uh... he said, uh.. "Ms. Morton, I know you don't remember me, I'm Tyrell" and she said, "No, I don't remember your name but I remember you used to steal pecans from my yard." (laughter) So he told that at one of our Isaac Bear meetings.

Lack: That's great. Oh, my gosh.

Corbett: She was an amazing person.

Lack: Wow. I'd love to interview her.

Corbett: Yes.

Lack: We'd have to travel there.

Corbett: Yes, that's true.

Lack: That would be worth it.

Corbett: They have a picture of her that's uh... a friend of mine took and she just looks lovely. She's all in white and just looks like a little doll. She's fragile looking but she always was small.

Lack: Oh, really. Uh huh. That was just how she was. That's interesting. Well, what did your husband do?

Corbett: He was in wood products. They-- he-- they had a corporate package he got from the lumber company. Some of the other uh... some other wood making industries and uh... he died in 1993 and uh...

Lack: He was from Wilmington way back?

Corbett: Yes, he was. Yes, he was. He was a native...

Lack: He passed away in 1993?

Corbett: Mm hm.

Lack: Wow.

Corbett: Long time.

Lack: Uh huh.

Corbett: But I have three of my four children in Wilmington so that's really been wonderful.

Lack: Oh, that three of your four have stayed?

Corbett: Three of the four live here.

Lack: That's unusual, isn't it?

Corbett: It is unusual so...

Lack: Did any of them leave and then come back?

Corbett: No. They've always stayed here. Well, yes, that's not right. One of my daughters lived in England for ten years and then in Australia so-- and in Japan. So she (inaudible) good while since she had left and then...

Lack: But maybe in the United States...

Corbett: Yes, and-- she and her husband divorced so she came back to Wilmington.

Lack: She came back.

Corbett: But the other two uh.. my son went into the family business and uh... my daughter is uh... also married here. She has my only grandchildren.

Lack: Really?

Corbett: Mm hm.

Lack: I know there's another one who lives...

Corbett: Another one that uh... works in uh... Lake Wily, South Carolina. Lives at Fort _______________.

Lack: Oh, okay.

Corbett: So I see her several times a year. She's the baby.

Lack: Oh, wow. That's nice. Get to be close by. Well, when you were chair, were there a lot of committees and things like that?

Corbett: No, we were (laughs) we were so small we were the committee.

Lack: Right, right.

Corbett: As far as the department was concerned.

Lack: But then when-- did it grow quite a bit during, you know, up until 1976, for example?

Corbett: Yes, it, it grew. We added some uh... some faculty but a lot of the faculty that we added was part-time. So it wasn't really until uh... Brooks Dodson came that the, the major hiring began. And then it-- and, of course, con-- he was the chairman five years and then Bob _______________ was chairman. And then we had uh... _______________ and Dr. Wentworth and Dr. Stokes for a short period and then Dr. _______________ again _______________.

Lack: Right. And he's currently chair, right?

Corbett: No, he-- no, he, he gave it up. He's president of the senate.

Lack: Oh. Chris Gould.

Corbett: Yeah, Chris Gould is.

Lack: Is chair.

Corbett: Is chair.

Lack: Right. So were you teaching quite a number of the students from various requirements? I don't know if most students had-- came through the English department at one time or another.

Corbett: Oh, yes, with 101 and 102, all the students had to do the English part.

Lack: Oh, I see.

Corbett: So we really got to uh... to, you know, to know the-- a goodly number of them and then uh... at-- when I started, uh... in the early years, for general requirements, students had to take English 101, 102, 201 and 202. So...

Lack: Wow. That was back maybe when you were on the core system?

Corbett: Mm hm. No, I, I think it was when we were on the semester system. That didn't last too long. Then we dropped the uhm.. the 202 all-- yeah. Dropped the 202 and uh... which is now 212. And then dropped the 211 so now it's 101 and 102. Unless it's changed in the last three years, which it may have.

Lack: It may have. I can't always keep up with that here in the library. I know we see a lot of the students who are working on papers for those classes. If we can go back to some of the people. You mentioned Dr. Randall. Did you get to know him at all?

Corbett: Yes, I...

Lack: What was he like?

Corbett: Ah, well, he was a very learned man. I think that's probably the uhm... the thing that impressed me uh... most about him. He had uh... he got-- had got a illustrious background and uh... he came to Wilmington quite by accident, he and his wife, as we had a car accident in, in that time-- at that time uhm... Wilmington was looking for a president and so he decided to stay. I guess you know that story.

Lack: I've heard that story but some of our listeners may not have heard it. I guess he had a car accident and then...

Corbett: And then uh... you know, this was before my time but this is the story that I've heard. And then uh... I don't know whether-- I don't know who was in the hospital but, at any rate, uh... he decided to stay when he was offered a job and I don't, I don't really know how he was offered a job but uhm... anyway, he was quite uh... he was quite a uhm... he was really a handsome man and very sophisticated and uh... I've always heard that uh... the people with three names that uh... can be used interchangeably uhm... are destined to be college presidents and he certainly fit that one.

Lack: That's true. (laughter) Randall. Mm hm.

Corbett: So William Madison Randall so it's uh... I, I think he also-- I don't remember whether he did uhm... connected with the Vatican in some way.

Lack: Yeah. He...

Corbett: With the library at the valley.

Lack: Yeah. Right. He catalogued some books for them or-- yeah. I always was interested in him because he had the library background so I think that's really fitting and interesting. And what about William Wagoner? What kind of...

Corbett: Well, he, he succeeded Dr. uhm... Dr. Randall uhm... I think one of the strong points of uh... Dr. Wagoner was his uh... his uh... I don't know what the word is. He was so good with people and uh... had a wonderful personality and was uhm... he, he's uh... a-- I remember I was so impressed with him because he (laughs) never referred to a note or anything. It was all up in his head and uh... and all his facts and figures and uh... so he was uh... he, he took Wilmington College, really, through I guess the most tumultuous part of its history.

Lack: Right.

Corbett: And uh... such a good job of it. And he was a lovely person, too. I think everybody, everybody liked him, as far as I know.

Lack: That's neat to get that perspective because, of course, I didn't know him, you know? A lot of us don't, you know, we only know Dr. Leutze, who will be leaving soon and did you meet Dr. Leutze?

Corbett: Oh, yes. Yes. What a fine president-- chancellor he's been, too, so the university will have to search far and wide to come up with anyone with his capabilities, really. I'm sure they'll, I'm sure they're looking.

Lack: Oh, yeah. To replace him, that's going to be, that's going to be a challenge. How are some of the other people you knew while you were who were your either characters or just very helpful to you or...?

Corbett: Well, as far as the characters concerned, Jerry Shin and you've already interviewed (laughs) with certainly a character. I remember _______________ told me one time that uh... he hadn't gotten the-- I can't imagine Jerry Shin not having the class' attention but next-- he didn't have it one day and so the next time he came in, he kicked the trash can from the door to the other side of the uh... of the uh... stage that he was on and that certainly got their attention so uh... sometimes you had to do some...

Lack: Kicked the can.

Corbett: ...I had a bunch of papers one time so-- that were uh... so bad that, when I brought them back that day, I wore bLack arm band and uh... and that made an impression.

Lack: Oh, yeah. Because people would get very nervous...

Corbett: Very nervous and uh... so that was one of the few tests we, we did over again. So uh... and Jerry was a character and uhm... there were so many of the people that I've started with are still close friends of mine.

Lack: Oh, that's-- I know you know Carol Ellis very well?

Corbett: Oh, yes. Yes. She's, she's one of my two best friends and uh... we go to the opera in uh... Chicago every now and then. My son went to graduate school there and uh... joined the lyric opera so tickets that he doesn't use, Carol and I use them generally in the spring. And we hope to uh... travel together soon. Uhm.. I've had knee surgery so that's kind of hampered me for awhile so, once that's corrected, then uhm... I hope we'll be able to travel together.

Lack: I've been trying to get in touch with her to do an interview but...

Corbett: Oh, she's just lovely. And she, she really has a, a, more knowledge of, of uh... a lot of things that I do and she would be wonderful to, to have.

Lack: She's been here for awhile and she's-- yeah. I'm looking forward to that. We just have to set up a time. I've been trying to email her and I think that's not the way. I just have to phone her and...

Corbett: Phone her, yes. She's retired from the English department.

Lack: Right. So she's still...

Corbett: But she's still in the _______________.

Lack: Right. Faculty assistant to Provost.

Corbett: Oh, she'd be wonderful.

Lack: Who's your other best friend?

Corbett: Uhm... Bessie Pearson, who uhm...

Lack: She's on the list.

Corbett: Yes. Oh, she is?

Lack: Yeah.

Corbett: Yes. Uh... she started, I think, in, in the early '60s but she started with uh... a bachelor's degree, which is the way many, many people started and then it was a question of, if she was going to continue teaching, she had to have a master's. And so she always went to-- she was one of those who made the trek to uh... to Chappell Hill to get her master's in English. She was always a splendid teacher. She uh... she retired earlier than-- well, I never did want her to retire but she, she retired uh... once she had-- once she reached 65, she retired whereas I thought she should keep on as long as I did but she didn't do it. But uhm... yeah, she was-- she had high standards and uh... I've been one of the-- it's funny (laughs) experiences-- Bessie was experimenting with her-- she had-- was-- had-- and still has the most gorgeous hair. She's never tinted it or anything but uh... she-- uh... it was uh... beginning to turn grey and she decided that she would uh... put some uh... grey-- I call them splotches, I know that's not the uh... cosmetology term but, anyhow, uh... and the-- and she came to class the next day. (laughs) I woulda called in sick but she didn't and it just looked terrible and one of her students said, "Miss Pearson, what on earth happened to you?" She says, "I've been in a flour mill" and (laughs) that was the end of the conversation.

Lack: That was the end.

Corbett: Yeah. But she's uh... she was uh... she was an absolutely superb teacher.

Lack: That's great. I'd like to get hold of her.

Corbett: Well, I hope you do. She's also in the order of Isaac Baron.

Lack: Yeah, she's in the Order of Isaac Bear. She's-- I think she came in maybe '61, '62, so she's been there a long time. So we've known each other and she, she and I are very close.

Lack: And Isabelle Fishshee[sp?]...

Corbett: Oh, yeah, there now. There's another uh... splendid uh... teacher. She had (laughs) we used to have to register students uh... in the gym and you couldn't pre-register, you had to register uh... stand in these enormous lines. I guess you know that. And uh... I remember she, she told me about a student that came up to register for 101 and he had no idea who she was and he said, "Give me anybody but Mrs. Fishshee" and she said, "Well, I believe that's the only opening I see right now." And he says, "Okay." And she said when she walked into class the next day, (laughs) he nearly collapsed but he said, 20 years later, that was the best class he ever had and she was a such a splendid teacher.

Lack: Really.

Corbett: Yeah. Yeah.

Lack: I wonder what he-- maybe he heard that she was hard or something?

Corbett: Yeah, he heard that she was hard and so he didn't uhm.. you know, want the class. But uh... I saw him, you know, maybe five years ago and he still talks about that experience. (laughs)

Lack: That's so funny.

Corbett: And this...

Lack: I'm sure it was mortifying for him.

Corbett: It was. And then what a wonderful uh... experience the class itself was.

Lack: Oh, that's funny.

Corbett: So she always has-- she still has a great sense of humor.

Lack: So I guess she was-- as teachers, you guys would help with registration?

Corbett: Oh, yes.

Lack: Really?

Corbett: Yeah. Mm hm. Yes, that's the uh... only way that it, that it was done was uhm... and you had to uh... register var-- for various classes and then you had to get your advisor to sign the uh... your registration form and I remember one time that I had signed my name so much that uh... I signed it Joanne K. College and the student came back laughing because I had signed it that way but uh... he didn't (laughter) it was bad on the students. It was really worse on them than it was on us because they had to stand in line. Some of them would get there at 5:00 in order to get their classes. So what a way we've come with registration.

Lack: Registering online and over the phone and all kinds of stuff now.

Corbett: And when we posted grades, you know, the grades were-- uh... final grades were posted by names and, you know, you-- we always give the students a choice and they were posted by names and they were posted by initials and then we changed to posting them by Social Security number but that uh... the administration felt was still somewhat identifiable so uh... then some professors would post the grades, and perhaps they still do, by numbers. And then some of us quit posting grades. And, of course, now it's no longer necessary because you can do it by phone. So uh...

Lack: Yeah. And computer.

Corbett: Yeah.

Lack: It's true. And it's pretty quick now.

Corbett: Mm hm.

Lack: You don't wait. I remember when I went back to graduate school a couple of years ago and it had changed since when I had done my undergraduate and I was at home kind of waiting for my grades to come in the mail. They never came. I called and they said, oh, you just have to-- you have to phone now. (laughter) I said, why didn't-- are they ever going to mail them? No. You have to...

Corbett: Well, grades originally were sent to the parents.

Lack: Right. I don't know if they still do that for undergraduates. Maybe for graduates.

Corbett: I don't think so. I think that's only with the permission of the student so-- 'cause everyone's 18 and above so...

Lack: Right.

Corbett: Yeah. I don't think that's done any more. In fact, it had changed when my own children went to college in the '70s. I, I never received their grades.

Lack: Oh, I see. I would receive it but it would be, you know, to whatever address I'd given, I suppose. But, yeah, that's-- it has changed, even since when I've been there. So it sounds like you had a very collegial department.

Corbett: Yes, uh huh. Yes. That's-- I, I never dreaded coming to work and I think, you know, after teaching 41 years and to say that, I think that's really-- I, I think that's uh... a commendation of both the faculty and, and the students.

Lack: Oh, yeah, that's wonderful to say about any job.

Corbett: I really loved it and, when I retired, even though I, I wanted to retire, I think the worst experience that I had was when I had to turn in my keys to the department and to the building.

Lack: Oh, my goodness.

Corbett: And I thought, that's it. And it was sad.

Lack: That's sad. Was there a party and...?

Corbett: Oh, yes.

Lack: And everything.

Corbett: The faculty. Bless their hearts. Sent me off with a, a rousing good-bye.

Lack: Was anyone else retiring the same time as you?

Corbett: Not in the English department.

Lack: Not in English. Right. Yeah, you have a good good-bye. And I guess you got to see quite a few young people coming in?

Corbett: Yes.

Lack: Some of the people who came in were probably your children's age?

Corbett: Oh, my children's age, yes. And uh... much younger than that and, as anybody my age says, you know, the students look younger every year, you know? I noticed when I drove up here for the interview that some of them just look like babies and I know they're 18 but... (laughter) it's just that I've gotten old, not, not the students.

Lack: No, you look great, though. I would never guess.

Corbett: Thank you.

Lack: I wouldn't even guess you were retired.

Corbett: Well, thank you. I had a good life.

Lack: That says a lot. I think we've touched on a good number of things. Oh, before we go, can you suggest any people who I really should talk to since I haven't been doing this for that long?

Corbett: Isabelle...

Lack: I'm trying to get in touch with her.

Corbett: As far as the English department is concerned?

Lack: Anybody.

Corbett: Anybody. Let's see, you've done Carol Ellis, Betsy Pearson. Betsy, Betsy could give you uh... a different uh... a view other than, than-- in fact, both Betsy and Carol, of the difficulties of getting an advanced degree while they were still teaching. You know, I had it made because I, I came with one but uh... both Betsy got her, her master's and uh.. Carol got her Ph.D. They were uh... both employed by the university, as did a lot of the others.

Lack: Yeah, it's great to see.

Corbett: Let's see. You, you want people as far back as possible, I'm sure.

Lack: Yeah. It would be good...

Corbett: Well, Isaac Bears is the best source of people.

Lack: Is a good source. And I do have their roster.

Corbett: Those would be the, the oldest people.

Lack: Anne McCrary, we tried to interview her last year but she wasn't feeling too well. Do you know her?

Corbett: Yeah, I, I think she has health problems.

Lack: Okay. She wasn't feeling quite up to it. I think she had hurt her arm or something.

Corbett: She doesn't come to many of the meetings.

Lack: Right. How often do you meet?

Corbett: Twice a year.

Lack: Oh, okay. Do you also go to the retired faculty association?

Corbett: Yes, I do. That's next week or the week after, yeah. Don't miss those, either, so it's uhm... well, of course, I guess that's the source, too. Do you have that list?

Lack: I do. In fact, I might go to this year's meeting and say a few words about this project.

Corbett: Oh, I think that'd be wonderful.

Lack: Yeah. I went last spring and met some people there and that's how I got quite a few names so, yeah, Normal _______________ has been really helpful with that.

Corbett: Oh, yes.

Lack: Doug _______________. He's so busy but I...

Corbett: Oh, yes.

Lack: I need to talk to him.

Corbett: Oh, you would. Now, he could give you a view unlike anyone else's.

Lack: I bet. He did so much.

Corbett: He did so much and he's a very funny person.

Lack: Uh huh.

Corbett: You'd-- that would really be a, a great addition.

Lack: Well, this has been a great addition. I've really learned a lot about the life of the department and Wilmington College as it was small and as it grew up under your-- while you were here as a professor and department chair so it's been real interesting. Thank you very much for your time.

Corbett: Thank you.

UNCW Archives and Special Collections Online Database
Found in:
Randall Library | UNCW Archives and Special Collections | Online Database | Contact Us | Admin Login
Powered by Archon Version 3.21 rev-1
Copyright ©2012 The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign