OXFORD, Miss. – Dinah Leavitt Swan and her husband, Terry Swan, have established the first scholarship endowment of its kind for theatre students at the University of Mississippi.
With a donation of $25,000, the Oxford couple established the Patricia Tarr Leavitt Scholarship, named in memory of Dinah’s mother. The scholarship is to be awarded to full-time undergraduate students from Mississippi majoring in theatre arts.
Patricia Tarr Leavitt, whose mother’s family, Lopez, settled in Biloxi in 1868, attended Ole Miss in the 1930s, as did her younger sister, Barbara Tarr. Both were members of Kappa Delta sorority.
"We wanted to do something to honor my mother and at the same time help students from Mississippi, a place our family loves," said Swan, a Fort Lewis College professor emerita of theatre. "My mother had a great zest for life. She was a wonderful mother and I was lucky to have her. You have precious few moments with your mama, and she taught me to make my life what I wanted to it be."
Both Swans are Mississippi natives. Terry Swan, a Jackson native, earned his bachelor’s degree in education from UM in 1970. A retired Air Force colonel, he is a speech instructor in UM’s Lott Leadership Institute.
Dinah Swan, a Pascagoula native, also attended Ole Miss, earning her bachelor’s degree in speech and master’s degree in theatre in 1969 and 1970, respectively. She later earned her doctorate in theatre from the University of Colorado-Boulder. She taught theatre at Fort Lewis College for 27 years and was chair of the department for eight.
She also taught writing. Already a successful playwright, since retiring she has become a novelist. She is director of Theatre Oxford’s annual National 10-Minute Play Contest.
The Swans’ love of theatre and admiration for UM’s Department of Theatre Arts in particular was the driving force behind designating the scholarship specifically for a theatre student.
"It was our confidence in and respect for UM’s theatre department chair Rhona Justice-Malloy, and her faculty that precipitated our decision to place the scholarship in theatre," Swan said. "She’s doing great things with the program, and it’s the new direction that she’s taking the department that was one reason we wanted to do this."
Justice-Malloy, Ph.D., said she hopes the scholarship will help with recruiting.
"This is the first theatre arts scholarship specifically for students from Mississippi," Justice-Malloy said. "We hope this will help attract students that might not otherwise come to Ole Miss."
"The Swans are a great couple," she added. "We are so appreciative of their generosity."
Besides scholarships, private support has helped make possible the renovation of Meek Auditorium. Utilized as a studio theatre space for the theatre arts department, as well as a large classroom, Meek Auditorium is undergoing renovation, including a backstage dressing room, sound and light control rooms, overhead catwalks, new orchestra pit cover, extended lobby, new restrooms and new seating. The renovation is expected to be completed this fall.