(OXFORD, Miss.) – Lt. Col. James Prentiss Hooper traveled the globe on secret intelligence missions for the U.S. Army, and his wife, Louise Frazier Hooper, accompanied him to many foreign countries. Their appreciation for diverse cultures and history, as well as their devotion to the University of Mississippi, has resulted in a major gift from the late couple’s estate to the University Museum and Historic Houses.
“Prentiss and Louise Hooper led a life filled with adventure, and we called ‘the Colonel’ the Indiana Jones of our family,” said Russell E. Aven, a first cousin of Louise Hooper and UM professor emeritus of chemical engineering. “They were interested in everything and developed a love for local resources of learning, such as the University Museum. They knew the value the Museum provides children and adults through education, adventure and fun.”
After serving as an Army second lieutenant in Germany and as a chemist in the Fifth Army Area Laboratory in St. Louis, Prentiss Hooper became a Mandarin Chinese linguist and reported to the Army Surgeon General. Posing as a tourist, he traveled between Hong Kong, Thailand, Laos, India and Nepal. While traveling in northern India, he was granted an audience with the Dalai Lama. He was later assigned to the Panama Canal Zone, where he was a biochemist for Gorgas Hospital and a toxicologist for the Canal Zone government. The majority of his records are classified.
Louise Hooper, a native of Oxford, passed away in 2006, and Prentiss Hooper, a native of Walthall, died in 2009. After Lt. Col. Hooper’s 1970 retirement, the couple lived full time in Oxford. The University of Mississippi Foundation has placed their monetary gift in a permanent endowment – the largest ever for the University Museum – and the interest from the fund will be used to expand exhibits, programming and events.
Museum Director William Pittman Andrews described the Hooper estate gift as “transformative,” adding that the endowment will ensure opportunities for generations to come.
“We will continually be indebted to Lt. Col. and Mrs. Hooper for choosing to share their legacy with the community through support of the University Museum,” Andrews said. “Estate gifts such as the Hooper gift create a legacy – a statement that is a lasting memorial – which embodies a person’s most significant endorsement of our purpose.”
The Hoopers also willed the University Museum some treasured items from their travels.
“Their gift includes a wonderful collection of 25 ceramic beer steins from Bavaria, Germany and Austria; two very rare short-stocked Kentucky rifles from 1840; and an 18th century pewter wine stein and matching goblets,” said William Griffith, museum collections manager. “In addition to the beauty and historical significance of these items, they are also in excellent condition, which is rare given their use and age. We are thrilled with this thoughtful gift and look forward to displaying the items soon.”
Prentiss Hooper served in the U.S. Navy from 1943 to 1946 before enrolling at Ole Miss. He earned a bachelor’s degree in biology and a master’s degree in pharmacology. Louise Hooper received a bachelor’s degree in liberal arts and later worked in the Registrar’s Office on campus. Her father, Elton Frazier, was then co-owner with Carl Coors of the Ole Miss Bookstore on campus.
“The Colonel had a business card that pretty much summed up his interests,” Aven said. “The card listed ‘sailor, pharmacologist, soldier, skydiver, spy, teacher, tree farmer and fisherman. All of the occupations were crossed out except ‘fisherman’ – that was the Colonel’s unique sense of humor. However, the card didn’t name all his interests; others included creating furniture, bird feeders and wood carvings. He was an author, scuba diver, bird watcher and hunter. Just like her mother, Maureen Frazier, Louise was the perfect hostess and loved to entertain.”
Upon his retirement, Prentiss Hooper worked in the university’s pharmacology department and taught chemistry at Oxford High School. He and his wife were active in their church and the community, including Prentiss taking on roles in plays and musicals. He was inducted into the Ole Miss Army ROTC Hall of Fame in 2006 and authored the books The Bloody Trace and Melting the Ice Road, with the latter addressing his Army career.
Aven said the Hoopers enjoyed pouring over items in the University Museum’s collections and keeping up with exhibits and activities. Now their estate gift will support all facets of the center that includes William Faulkner’s Rowan Oak and the Walton-Young House. Around 30,000 people annually visit the University Museum and Historic Houses, and 5,000 attend educational programs.
“We were thrilled and delighted to learn of the Hoopers’ gift,” Andrews said. “This long-term support will help sustain us in our primary goal of inspiring and educating the public audience by engaging their curiosity, desire for knowledge and appreciation of beauty.”