Remarks About Durwood Fleming, 12th President of Southwestern University by Jake B. Schrum, 14th President of Southwestern University
Welcome to this memorial service celebrating the life and legacy of Southwestern’s 12th President, Durwood Fleming. I would like to recognize Southwestern’s 13th Presidential couple, Roy and Margaret Shilling, as well as my partner in life, Jane Schrum.
Let me begin by expressing my heartfelt appreciation for being given, by the Fleming family, the honor of sharing in this celebration of the life of Durwood Fleming, 12th President of Southwestern. To you, Lurlyn; to you, Jon, Pam, and Marty, and to President Fleming’s entire family gathered here today; Jane and I and the Southwestern community would like to express our deepest sympathy to you as we mark his legacy as a true servant leader. Even though you know it already, I want to say what all in our community want to express today, “welcome home.”
In some ways I have felt a special connection to the Fleming family for my entire life. I was born in Greenville, Texas, which was next door to the Salem community where Durwood and Lurlyn started their ministry in the Methodist church. My grandfather, Herman Bennett, was the lay leader of the Salem church and was very impressed with the new, young minister, his wife, and their son, Jon Hugh, who as a young child my mother and father used to baby sit. My mother’s family, like the rest of us, would soon see this young couple’s meteoric rise through the clergy leadership ranks of the Methodist church until they founded and were serving St. Luke’s in Houston, one of the great churches of our denomination.
During this time in Houston, my family was living in Sugar Land, a suburb. The Schrum children and the Fleming children were all involved in church camp at Lakeview Methodist assembly, which at that time was administered by Reverend Weldon Morton, father of Southwestern’s present Board Chair, Merriman Morton.
At church camp one summer my cabin counselor was Kenneth Shamblin, who will give our pastoral prayer today. It was that summer when he met and fell in love with a counselor in a girl’s cabin named Pamela Fleming. What a joy to see such a wonderful couple fall in love. It was during this same period of time that I had a crush on Marty Fleming, who had so many suitors that my feelings had to go unrequited.
When Durwood and Lurlyn were chosen as Southwestern’s presidential couple in 1961, it wasn’t long after that I and several members of our Board of Trustees started our collegiate educational journey at Southwestern. Many of us came to Southwestern University because of Durwood. Since Durwood included student leaders in so many of the important events of his administration, such as the day we gave an honorary degree to the wife of the President of the United States, Lady Bird Johnson, I was able to participate first-hand in understanding the leadership genius of President Fleming.
Durwood invited me back to Southwestern in 1970 to be an intern from Perkins; and that experience shaped my desire to be a college administrator more than any other single experience.
Later, I had the privilege of serving Texas Wesleyan under the leadership of Jon Fleming and seeing how Jon’s Presidency reflected the values and sensibilities which characterized his father’s mentorship.
Jane and I went to Southwestern with Dr. Richard Fleming, and we were dorm parents in Herman Brown when Dan and Alice Stultz were here. Mallory Fleming used to baby sit our two daughters, Libby and Katie, and I’ve been on many outings with the Fleming boys; especially major league baseball games.
Today Jane and I live in the President’s home officially named the Turner-Fleming house a few years ago by vote of University Trustees.
Durwood Fleming’s unique leadership abilities have been woven into, as he would say, “the very warp and woof” of the fabric which makes up the important transformational experiences certainly of my life; and I would daresay the lives of many of you in this chapel today and thousands more elsewhere.
The most meaningful legacies I have chosen to remember about President Durwood Fleming today are these:
- He always believed that if you truly touched people in a personal way, they would make that personal empathy a part of their ongoing care of others.
- He believed and proved that well-chosen and superbly delivered words could stir the souls, hearts, and minds of listeners so that they wanted to do something to benefit others.
- He believed that the gospel message was, and is indeed, the hope of the world.
- He believed that what was of great value in the Judeo Christian tradition could also be found and practiced in other great religions–peace, justice, compassion, and sacrificial love.
- He always believed that the glass was half full. This way of perceiving life allowed him to tackle difficult challenges and turn them into marvelous opportunities.
- He believed that servant leadership had to start with a leader who was willing to serve others; and in his case this service took place in church and in college.
- He believed that John Wesley got it right when he said, “We must combine the two which have long been divided, knowledge and vital piety.”
- He lived what he preached and as some say today, “walked the talk.” Integrating Southwestern in the turbulent 60’s was an example of his quiet, but determined leadership.
- He believed that leaders should lead, and he was willing to make hard decisions, but only after he had exhausted all avenues for building consensus.
- He had definite ideas about style, beauty, and grace; and he was willing to express his opinions (red carpet in this Chapel and at St. Luke’s).
- He quietly, but effectively, mentored people who were later asked to serve in leadership roles themselves. Several are in this room today. Seven have become presidents of colleges or professional associations.
- He never seemed to take himself too seriously. He loved it when students called him “Daddy Dur” and Lurlyn “Mamma Lur.”
- He had a great sense of humor, and I remember many times when he, Jon, and I would have a hearty laugh over some good story.
- He was true to what he held dear, to Lurlyn, to all of his family, to the United Methodist Church, to Southwestern, to SMU, and to his friends.
- By any measure of leadership, his contributions to the church, to society, and to the higher education community, can aptly be described as transformational. He possessed the three great qualities that we at Southwestern would wish for all of our graduates; and that is that they are bright, moral, and courageous.
Lawrence Durwood Fleming, the 12th president of this venerable University set an example which can be a great touchstone for all of us who want to benefit from his remarkable legacy.
Family patriarch, devoted husband, pastor, preacher, educational leader, friend, mentor, and Christian servant. We will miss you, but your life long contributions will live on in the best part of each one of us. We celebrate and give thanks for your life and your legacy.
Now, as we depart from this sacred place, may we be reminded that all of life is sacred. May we carry from this place the wonderful legacy of commitment and service for which Durwood Fleming’s life was a witness.
You give us life, and you offer eternal life. May we always remember that we are not alone. You are always with us. Thanks be to you, oh God. Amen and amen.