A Lifetime of Leadership Honored

Willis Connell (left) and Ed Connell (right) pose for a picture for the Daily Mississippian.

Willis Connell (left) and Ed Connell (right) pose for a picture for the Daily Mississippian.

Connell Brothers’ Legacy Remembered Through Scholarship Endowment

University of Mississippi School of Law alumni Ed and Willis Connell were quite the impressive pair.  As brothers, both excelled similarly in life’s milestones, starting with their time as undergraduate students and then as law school students at the University of Mississippi.

Since their passing, their families wanted to honor these legacies in a profound way.  A scholarship endowment for entering University of Mississippi School of Law students seemed a natural fit.

“They both loved Ole Miss law school,” said Susan Butler, daughter of Willis Connell. “It shaped their careers in law and banking in the Mississippi Delta.  We believe the scholarship will honor them through enabling other Coahoma County residents to follow in their footsteps.”

The scholarship endowment was founded jointly by the Ed Connell family of Ted, his son, and Eva, his wife, and the Willis Connell family of Edna Connell Fields, daughter; Will Connell, son; Dina Connell Wilson, daughter; and Susan Connell Butler, daughter.  It will be used to provide scholarships for incoming law students from Coahoma County, the hometown of both the Connell brothers.

“Private donations allow us to provide outstanding education and professional training, while keeping our tuition costs among the lowest in the nation,” said Gershon.  “Contributions like these are essential to our law school because they help our students directly.”

Future scholarship recipients will be challenged to follow in their footsteps, as each left an indelible mark of leadership during their tenures at Ole Miss.  Both graduated at the top of their undergraduate classes, Willis as number one and Ed as number two.  Willis majored in Banking and Finance and was president of his fraternity, Phi Delta Theta, and was inducted into the Hall of Fame. He was also a member of the Ole Miss golf team.

Ed Connell’s accomplishments in many ways mirrored those of Willis.  After contracting polio at an early age, Ed lost movement from the waist down.  Even so, it didn’t stop him, according to former Chancellor Robert Khayat, who knew the brothers from their time together at Ole Miss.

“He was smart as a whip and worked harder than anyone,” Khayat said.  “He learned to fly planes while an undergraduate and taught lessons while in law school. It was as if he used this to keep active in the face of his disability.”

As an undergraduate, Ed was also chosen as a member of the Hall of Fame, was president of Omicron Delta Kappa, the Inter-Fraternity Council, and Delta Sigma Pi. He was vice president of his class.

“They were very mature, were gentlemen, and were very smart,” Khayat said.  “Both were always doing good things.”

Both of the brothers attended Ole Miss law school, Ed as the associate editor of the Mississippi Law Journal, and salutatorian in 1961, and Willis as editor of the Mississippi Law Journal, recipient of the Phi Delta Phi Graduate of the Year Award, and also as valedictorian of his class.

Reflecting on their time in law school, the Connell family believes this type of gift would hold sentimental value for the two brothers.

“Not only did they receive excellent educations, but they made wonderful lifelong friends and business associates during those formative years,” Susan Butler said.

“We hope the scholarship endowment will enable law students to pursue their goal of attending law school and to have meaningful careers as a result.  Nothing would have made our father and uncle happier than to enable others to purse their dreams, especially students from the Delta which they both loved.”

Both returned to Clarksdale after law school, where their success and leadership extended to their professional careers.

Willis, a banker, held a 39-year tenure at the Bank of Clarksdale, where he served as chairman and CEO.  He was the president of the Junior Bankers Association of Mississippi and was active in the Mississippi and American Bankers Associations. He promoted education, social and economic advancement in his hometown area by serving as president of the Chamber of Commerce, the Industrial Foundation and the Rotary Club.  He was also named Clarksdale’s Citizen of the Year.

Likewise, Ed Connell achieved much professionally.  He practiced law with Holcomb and Curtis just out of law school, and became an adjunct professor at the University of Mississippi School of Law in 1963, teaching courses in Estate Planning, Estate and Gift Taxation, Wills, Trusts, Wills and Trusts Drafting, Income Taxation, and Property for 13 years.

He served in leadership roles in many professional organizations, including president of the Coahoma County Bar Association and chairman of the Mississippi State Bar Committee on Taxation, as well as serving as the president of the University of Mississippi Law Alumni Association.  He was selected as one of the Best Lawyers in America from 1983 to 2008.  Ed was an associate, partner or shareholder in Holcomb, Dunbar, Connell, Chaffin & Willard, or its predecessor firms.

Legacies such as these are certainly deserving of commemoration.  UM Law School Dean highlights one of the secondary purposes of such a scholarship endowment.

“It is an honor to have the Connell name memorialized at the law school,” Gershon said. “Gifts like this one allow family members and friends to connect past generations of teachers and lawyers with future generations.”

Chancellor Khayat echoes these sentiments.

“It’s wonderful these two men will be remembered this way,” he said.  “People who benefitted from their friendship or guidance or from Ed’s teaching would feel very good about providing gifts in their honor.”

The Willis and Ed Connell Family Scholarship Endowment is open to receive other gifts. Individuals and organizations that would like to contribute can send a check with the fund noted in the memo line to The University of Mississippi Foundation, P.O. Box 249, University, Miss. 38677; contact Denson Hollis at dhollis@olemiss.edu, 662-915-5092; or visit online at www.umfoundation.com/makeagift.