Can anything good come out of Moultrie?
If you know anything about Dean Philip Stanhope Sheffield
Covington, you don’t have to ask.
Born in Moultrie, Georgia, Philip Covington graduated from
Emory University in 1934 and embarked upon the study of law. He practiced law for three years in Georgia
before deciding to pursue teaching and graduate study in English. After he earned a master’s degree in English
at Duke University, he taught in Florida and in Charleston, SC before becoming
associate professor of English at Wofford in 1947.
Three years later, he took on the thankless job of dean of
students, and in 1953, new president Pendleton Gaines named him dean of the
college. When President Gaines resigned
abruptly in 1957, the trustees turned to Dean Covington, naming him acting
president until they could bring Dr. Charles Marsh to campus in 1958. As chief academic officer from 1953 to 1969,
Phil Covington hired a generation of faculty members, all of whom are now
retired. He had a particular knack for
picking professors, and most famously, hired geologist John Harrington after
sitting next to him on an airplane.
Phil Covington was more than an administrator and teacher,
he was a lover of tradition, skillful in the use of words, and by all accounts,
a clever and engaging member of the community.
Though he respected tradition and later in life said he wanted nothing
about Wofford to change, he could poke fun at tradition and never took himself
or his office too seriously. The stories
of him are numerous and humorous, and according to Dr. Lewis Jones “not more
than a third of them are apocryphal.” One
of my favorites is the oft-repeated tale of how he was asked how he determined
faculty salaries, and after staring out the window for a moment, he replied
that he observed the flights of birds.
Another favorite is the story about low enrollment in one particular
department – he was overheard to say, as he looked out his office window, “I
wonder what Dan Olds and his physics student are doing today.” Most
of those stories, unfortunately, were never written down.
He created a few euphemisms that remain with us today. “The Wofford Way” is attributed to him. He meant it not entirely as a compliment. He meant it in sort of an English way of
“muddling through.” His founder’s day
addresses were the stuff of legend. He
once gave a talk about Benjamin Wofford’s bones. A Shakespearean scholar, naturally he chose
Mark Antony’s funeral oration in Julius Caesar as his text. (Keep an eye out, in a few weeks I’ll post
the talk on Founder’s Day this year.)
Despite poking fun at Old Ben every now and then, he had a great respect
for the college’s founder, saying that his “very action in founding this
college was a profession of faith in the eternal verities.”
At Dean Covington’s funeral in 1988, Dr. Lewis Jones quoted
a 1951 Old Gold and Black story that
began, “’On November 28, 1912, the population of Moultrie, Georgia was
increased, for better or worse, by one.’
We know now—it was for better.”
If you have a Covington story or quote, why not share it
with me? Leave a comment about Dean
Covington so others can enjoy.