Walter Thomas Colquitt, Jr. was a son of Centenary College. As such, the College was a part of him and he will always be a part of Centenary. Much of who he was was shaped by what he learned here and who he met here. He took those lessons and shared them with everyone else all the days of his life. As we all are called to be, Walter Colquitt was blessed by his Creator to be a blessing. And, so he was.
He was born on Oct. 7, 1905, and died on Feb. 5, 1996. He was married to Eleanor Johnson Colquitt for over 64 years. They have three children - Katherine 'Kit' Blue, Sarah Stang, and Tom, as well as four grandchildren and one great-grand-child.
Dr. Kaylan F. Worley, DDS, of Shreveport wrote in the Spring 1996 issue of the Louisiana Dental Association Journal, "Will Rogers is loosely quoted as saying that he never met a man he didn't like. The reverse was also true of Dr. Colquitt. In over thirty years of travels in dentistry, I don't ever recall being introduced as being from Shreveport, Louisiana, without being approached by someone asking, 'do you know my good friend Walter Colquitt?' I was always proud to answer that he was my friend too. Everyone who ever met Walter liked him personally and respected him professionally."
Walter Colquitt was, as his wife Eleanor describes him, "a scholar, a gentle man, and lots of fun." He befriended all and shared everything worthy. We are grateful for his living memory.
Bentley Sloane wrote about his class in the 1927 Yoncopin, "Eagerly they approach the time when books will be laid aside, and with a sigh they will review the accomplishments of four years. Then they go; deeply grateful to those who have preserved the light of truth at whose feet they have reclined; and to the cross sections of student life where the priceless jewels of friendship have gleamed. In the brilliancy of graduation they will not forget. They will not betray that trust. Scattered among the nation's people they will blend their lives and forget themselves into immortality where they will some day gather around that mystic campus that is spiritual."
And so they have and so they will.
At the time, the Class of 1927 was the largest in the history of Centenary College and included:
Virginia B. Allen, Millard Word Baggett, William Gerard Banks Jr., Albert A. Beam, Joe L. Beecher, Helen Vincent Bell, Adelle Biedenharn, William Frank Boydston, Mrs. T. A. Brown, Hattie Clara Bubenzer, Edwin Carlisle, Claude S. Chadwick, Lloyd C. Clanton, Walter Thomas Colquitt Jr., Glenn H. Crawford, John Mauree Davis, Edgar Clement Dufresne, Lake Dupree, H. M. Glass, Ruby Ray Hanks, Gerald Hause, Selmah Holcombe, Anna Lee Honaker, Aubrey Houston, Fannie Lou Houston, Burney Howard, Mary Louise Hussey, James E. Hyde, Mary Katherine Jones, Robert Ernest Kepke, Adrian Myatt Larche, Hiram D. Lawrence, Gertrude Mae Marks, Mary Martel, George H. Martin Jr., Loryne Martin, William Marshall May, Jessie Samelia McCabe, Sybil McDade, E. A. McDonnell, John Clingman Munday, Lilian Nelson, Clara Myrtle Petty, William Beaman Phelps, Marguerite Platt, Reginald C. Pou, Herbert G. Purcell, Johnnie Metta Reeder, Nell Reynolds, Annie Ora Rice, Edrith Frances Roney, Opal Roquemore, Robert Allen Shive, Bentley Sloane,
Hazel Irene Smith, Ruth Vivian Spaulding, David Franklin Tarver, Regina Taylor, Arthur L. Tatum, Lota Lee Troy, William Clyde Wafer, Margaret Wilkinson, Louis Dale Worley and Mary Frances Young.
Later today we will all sing together that "Time, like an ever-rolling stream, bears all its sons away. They fly, forgotten as a dream dies at the opening day." Five years ago, when my father retired from his practice after devoting 63 years of his life to the Art and Science of caring for his patients' dental needs, he wrote a letter to his patients. In that letter, he told them that he regretted having to bid them farewell, as they were his best friends, but that his "parents," Mother Nature and Father Time, had told him that he should make his valediction. Two days ago, Time bore another of his sons away, but we meet here on this day to ensure that Walter Colquitt, although he undoubtedly "flew," will never be forgotten as a dream, as long as those who knew him, who loved him, who were taught by him, and who were touched by his graciousness remain on this earth.
He was born in Bossier Parish on a large plantation. His father was a successful planter who donated to the small city of Bossier much of the land on which many of its municipal buildings now stand. His days on the plantation with his parents and sisters were idyllic and provided the grist of his many humorous stories about his childhood, which he told with great relish and zest. For example, there was the ne'er-do-well uncle who, after perceiving the prosperity of Walter Colquitt, Sr., arrived in an ambulance claiming complete paralysis and who took advantage of the Colquitts' bed and board, remaining completely bedridden while they waited on him hand and foot. The ruse was revealed when the uncle asked to be brought his pipe to smoke. The match ignited the mosquito netting above his bed and, as the flaming net fell upon his bare chest, he received a "miracle cure" and ran screaming from the house, never to be seen again.
Unfortunately, the boll weevil and other disasters took their toll on the Colquitts' holdings and, by the time Daddy entered Centenary College, his family was penniless. He paid his way through college while managing a gas station for Crystal Oil. At one point, he considered dropping out of Centenary because of his financial difficulties. Although he was an outstanding student with a photographic memory and eventually graduated magna cum laude from Centenary, it never occurred to him to ask for a scholarship. His closest friend at that time was Eddie Knighton, whose father founded the Willis Knighton Hospital. His plans had always been to transfer from Centenary and join Eddie in Tulane, where they would both train to enter the medical profession. About that time his sister, Mamie, married a young dentist, Sanders Fowler. Daddy was very impressed with Sanders' commitment to excellence, and decided that he might give dentistry a try. Sanders drove Daddy from Shreveport to Atlanta, Ga. in a model T to enroll him at Atlanta Southern Dental College [now Emory University]. Daddy never forgot Sanders' kindness and encouragement, and later when two of Sanders' sons entered the dental profession, he drove the first one, Sanders, Jr., over to enroll him at Baylor dental college. When the second son, Billy, graduated from dental school, Daddy became his mentor and brought him into his practice as an associate.
Daddy distinguished himself at Atlanta Southern, and his accomplishments were somewhat incredible. Still broke, he managed to complete the four-year curriculum in three years and graduate with an average of 99 percent while working the entire time to pay for his own education. He claimed that the only reason that he could do this was because he had that photographic memory and absolutely no need for sleep. The lack of sleep caught up with him suddenly one night. He was working all night at the switchboard of the YMCA. He was studying for an exam and had a glass of CocaCola and ice nearby, and nodded off at the switchboard. The bell on the switchboard rang, woke him up, and mistaking the coke for the ear-piece, he threw the ice cold coke into his ear trying to answer the phone.
During those dental school years (1927-30), he had begun a lively correspondence with Eleanor Johnson of Shreveport. Little did he know that she had manipulated the start of this relationship. Daddy was a wonderful dancer and she had danced with him at a few parties. One evening she and some friends had reserved a table on the rooftop of the Youree Hotel, where dances were held regularly. When she saw Daddy enter the room, she quickly found his place-card and placed it next to hers so he would have to sit next to her, an opportunity which he seized and continued to enjoy until two days ago.
Eleanor's father was the president of the Commercial National Bank in Shreveport. Everyone called him "Mr. Ben." Mr. Ben came to Atlanta to entertain some prominent bankers, and invited my father to dinner. Daddy had only one rather worn-out suit, and a very cheap overcoat he had bought at a bargain basement. He borrowed a yellow tie from his roommate to wear to the dinner. When he arrived at the dinner, the men were all in black tie, and the women in low-cut elegant evening wear. There he was, feeling insignificant and terribly out of place, in his cheap suit and yellow tie. After dinner the men all smoked cigars. Daddy, being fastidious even at that age, noticed a little cigar ash on the table in front of him. He gave it a little puff of breath to remove it, and that breath caught a tray full of cigar ashes and deposited the entire contents of the ashtray upon the ample bosom of the banker's wife sitting across from him. Then, totally mortified, as he was trying to figure out how to thank Mr. Ben for his hospitality, totally embarrassed by his appearance and the faux pas with the ashtray, and just knowing that he had ruined forever any chance of gaining the approval of a great man whom he hoped would become his future father-in-law, they arrived at the coat check stand, and the attendant couldn't find his overcoat. After looking for it for what seemed like an eternity, the attendant asked in a loud voice, "Is your coat this one with the bargain basement label?"
I tell this story because it reveals so much. Daddy felt totally unworthy of even being invited to the party and, while he wanted very much to be accepted and liked, was sure that he was unworthy of that also. My grandfather, being a wise man, saw through all of the superficial idiosyncrasies of the situation, perceived my father's worth as a person, and from that moment on treated him like his own son. Throughout the rest of his life, Daddy never really thought he amounted to much, but those with whom he came in contact knew otherwise...
Walter Colquitt was a giver, not a taker. He devoted his life to his family, his patients, and to his profession, and would take nothing in return. Nobody in this cathedral today, except his family, has any idea of the contributions he made to dentistry. He distinguished himself in three separate fields of dentistry, and is the only dentist in the world ever to be a member of the American Academy of Restorative Dentistry, the American Academy of Periodontology, and to be a diplomat of the American Board of Endodontics. He virtually invented endodontics in this part of the country and was committed to saving teeth when others considered it heresy and malpractice. He published articles and lectured on the subject at a time when nobody had any idea what he was talking about, and due to his efforts thousands of people have tens of thousands of teeth that otherwise would have been lost. The American Academy of Restorative Dentistry is considered by many to be the most elite group in the profession, having only 150 members nationwide. To be a member is an honor. To be asked to be president is close to anointment. He worked tirelessly for decades behind the scenes making his contribution through chairing the committees of the Academy, and when he was asked to serve as president, he turned it down, saying he had already made his contribution and didn't want to call attention to himself.
When young dentists came to Shreveport, he wrote them letters of welcome, introduced them around to the local dentists, and sent them patients to help get them started. He saw them as colleagues in need of encouragement, not as competitors for his piece of the pie.
Every day when I enter the office building to treat my patients, he is still there with me. I am humbled every day when I have the privilege of treating his patients and observing the beautiful dentistry he did for them which has lasted 30, 40, 50 or 60 years. The great irony is that while he had to overcome the technology to do excellent dentistry, today's technology permits anyone with the desire and the knowledge to meet or exceed the standards he set. Yet today, the insurance companies and the American Dental Association say that a crown or bridge has a life expectancy of five years. Five years! The problem is that while we may have the tools and the toys, we don't have any more teachers like Walter Colquitt.
Forgive me for focusing on his accomplishments in dentistry, but I am somewhat close to both subjects and am thankful every day not only for who he was and what a great fellow he was, but for what he taught me as a father and a mentor. He never would have told you about any of this, so I feel compelled to do so. My major regret is that while I may have learned some of this dental skills, his gift as one of God's noblemen sets an example that I can never hope to emulate. God broke the mold after making Walter Colquitt, and now God has him right there to admire His handiwork.
The cycle of life is such that while it is a great gift, if lived completely it may become unbearable, which is part of preparing us for the end. Daddy's body betrayed him by cruelly rewarding him for almost a century of moderation. His retirement from dentistry just barely preceded his retirement from the enjoyment of his life, and he prayed for it to all end since he really wasn't able to enjoy it any more. He knew that my mother still has a great deal of living to do and saw himself as a hindrance. His memory and hearing and mobility all began to fail him markedly.
Sunday night, God saw fit to invite me to dinner with my mother and daddy. He was in great spirits, with a twinkle in his eye. Mother prepared one of his favorite dishes, oyster stew. After having one taste, he proclaimed excitedly, "I could live on this forever!" As it turned out, he did. When he kissed Mother goodnight, he looked at her and said, "Eleanor, you are the most beautiful woman I have ever known. You have no idea how much I love you." The next morning he was no longer with us. If situations and relationships demand closure, then his life had closure in a most poetic way. I think he wrote his final scene himself. God bless him, and take care of him.
To honor and remember him, the family and friends of Walter Colquitt have created the Walter Thomas Colquitt, Jr. Memorial Scholarship at Centenary College of Louisiana. For information, please contact Eugene R. Gregory, vice president for development, at 318-869-5106.