University of Mississippi Foundation CFO Maggie Abernathy recently opened an email from Don Newcomb – longtime Oxford, Miss., resident and business owner – setting the wheels in motion to establish a scholarship endowment.
But Newcomb also had a story to tell, one of two families bonded together through sacrifice, tireless work and generosity. He explained that the new Trott Family Scholarship Endowment is designed to help deserving students attend UM and surpass financial obstacles, just as the Trotts had done years ago for his family.
When Newcomb was only eight years old in 1947, G.R. “Dick” and Helen Trott were moving their family to the Oxford campus, where a Department of Mathematics faculty position awaited Dick Trott. Students were flocking to UM at the close of World War II, and professors were needed.
Newcomb’s eldest brother, Guy, had just graduated high school alongside friend William “Dickie” Trott, the older of the Trott children. Dickie Trott was often the 11th person at the Newcomb dinner table in Blue Mountain, Miss. As an only son, Dickie loved to be surrounded by the six Newcomb boys.
Recognizing how much Guy Newcomb wished to attend Ole Miss, the Trotts invited him to live with them while he pursued a pharmacy degree.
“My brother knew college was his ticket to a better life,” said Don Newcomb. “The Trotts gave him such a gift, alleviating the burden of trying to afford room and board.”
Then just three years later, Dr. G.R. Trott died suddenly in the summer of 1950. Dickie was attending Copiah-Lincoln Community College on a basketball scholarship but transferred back to UM. He achieved undergraduate and master’s degrees by 1953 and received a direct U.S. Air Force commission.
Wamble, now known for his artistic works portraying college haunts, hometown landmarks and other nostalgia-driven themes, says it all started in Osceola, where Newcomb hired him at the age of 15 to work in his drugstore.
“Guy Newcomb was one of the most influential men in my life,” Wamble said. “Small town pharmacies are a major community hub. You come to know everyone, especially in their most vulnerable moments with sick children or dying family members. I watched how Guy Newcomb helped people in those moments, and witnessing those things became ingrained in me.”
Wamble’s mentor shared the values of hard work and education being keys to success.
“It is because of him I attended pharmacy school at Ole Miss,” said Wamble. “He also helped me through school, as I know he did for others, too. He is the backbone of a lot of people achieving their education.”
A Similar Path with a Delicious Divergence
Like Wamble, a young Don Newcomb was also assisted by his brother Guy to attend Ole Miss. His career path also began in a drugstore. Before high school, Don began working in a Tippah County, Miss., drugstore as a soda jerk. He enjoyed it so much he transferred to Ripley High School to work daily after school.
A local dentist was a frequent customer, and the man’s work and success intrigued him. After studying chemistry at Ole Miss, Don Newcomb enrolled in the University of Tennessee College of Dentistry in Memphis, disregarding the warning of a professor that “he probably wouldn’t qualify for dental school and should find a different field.” He completed four years of study in only three by attending summer classes.
He practiced dentistry beginning in the U.S. Navy, working on an aircraft carrier in the Mediterranean and later a veteran’s hospital in Tuscaloosa, Ala.
“I looked at a lot of places before starting private practice,” Newcomb said, “and something told me Oxford was about to become the center of the universe. It was the luckiest move I ever made.”
The Trotts were among his dental patients, providing opportunities to keep in touch. But after 30 years, Don Newcomb’s memories of working the soda counter, serving customers tasty treats and getting to know fellow community members, returned.
“I was always a risk taker,” Newcomb said. “I told my wife, Emily, and my employees that I was going to try and grow our profits even more. We had a profit sharing plan, and I said they could keep their share in or take it out. Only one person, my office manager Debra Bryson, went in with me.”
After the 1989 movie Heart of Dixie used an Oxford out-of-business service station as a drive-in for college co-eds, Newcomb and Bryson purchased the site and opened a sandwich shop, later becoming McAlister’s Deli, named for Emily Newcomb’s maternal grandparents. Their business had a magic formula like brother Guy’s chain of pharmacies: people.
“There’s room at the top for everyone who strives for excellence; that’s what Vince Lombardi said,” Newcomb quoted. “I was the idea person and did the deals. Debra had the eye for details, organization and design, while my son, Chris, brought his strong business management skills.”
Youngest son Neil was also a vital part of the team. “He has a politician’s blood; he was an excellent problem-solver with franchisees.”
After receiving a deal too good to pass up, the team sold McAlister’s in 1999. Their current operation, Newk’s Eatery, is booming. Their first location opened in Oxford in 2004; today there are more than 50 Newk’s restaurants in 13 states. Newcomb also recently opened Ember’s Biscuits and Bar-B-Que in Oxford.
Don Newcomb credits the Trotts for providing that first step toward higher education, but also recognizes another integral ingredient that without, neither he nor his brother could have achieved such success.
"My parents didn't have much formal education, but their core values and strong work ethic were straight from the Bible: always do more than is expected of you," he said. "And their demand for excellence was just that – demanding! To have those virtues instilled in us at an early age was the greatest gift they could have given and far outweighs all the material gifts they were not able to give."
Following His Father’s Footsteps
Meanwhile, Dickie Trott was forging a successful career in the Air Force and influencing young people as a father, an ROTC commander and a math professor – like his father.
“I met Dick in Washington D.C.,” said his widow, Billie Trott. “I was a government budget analyst and he was a captain in the Air Force. We met by the swimming pool at our apartment complex, and one year later we were married.”
At the time of Rt. Col. Trott’s death in 2011, the two were married for 50 years. They followed an Air Force officer’s lifestyle and career around the country with children Caren and Steven, from his previous marriage to Annie Trott, and their two sons, John and Andrew. His career included work in space and missiles in Los Angeles, plus serving as Air Force ROTC Commander at MIT in Boston. He retired from the Air Force and moved his family to Oxford in 1977 where for the next 21 years, just like his namesake, he taught math to Ole Miss students.
Upon their return, the Newcomb-Trott bond strengthened once more. Andrew Trott and Neil Newcomb became best friends at Oxford High School and stood alongside each other in their weddings. Dick Trott, known for a vocal talent that he and his father shared, would regularly sing to Mrs. Newcomb at the nursing home.
Billie Trott also found a close friend in Bobbie Jean, the fifth Newcomb sibling, who married Tom Horton, a UM physics professor. Five years ago, Bobbie Jean lost a battle with breast cancer.
“She was like a sister to me,” Billie Trott said. “It seems like at every angle our families find a way to become meshed together.”
Called Home to Lead
Indeed, it was not only the Trott men who served the university. After Dick Trott, Sr.’s death, Helen Trott worked at the J.D. Williams Library almost 25 years. Billie Trott was a secretary in the English Department from the late 1980s into the 1990s. In fact, to this day, someone from the Trott family has been employed at UM since 1947.
But of all the Trott women, Dr. Judy Trott’s service to Ole Miss was more than an occupation; it was a life’s calling. During her tenure, Judy Trott led young people through the trying transitions of university life from 1966 to 2001.
After graduating from UM in 1961, Judy Trott taught for two years then earned a master’s degree in guidance and education in 1964. While working in 1966 as a counselor at Catonsville High School in Baltimore, she was traveling in Europe and received a wire from Ole Miss’ dean of women asking if would serve as Panhellenic advisor.
“I thought, well, ok, I’ll go back; I’ve had my big city living,” she said. “I returned from Europe, threw my stuff in the car and got back to Oxford just before Rush started.”
She soon became assistant dean of women; everything on campus was still handled separately for men and women – housing, student activities, governance and more. Her job continued to evolve and present challenges when Title IX was introduced.
Judy Trott would eventually become dean of students in 1985, help the campus transition through the Americans with Disabilities Act and finally retire in 2001. In her retirement, she continues to be of service to the women of Ole Miss at her beloved Delta Gamma, serving on the house corporation.
The Connection Continues
Today, John Trott, the second eldest son, works on campus at the National Center for Natural Products Research as a principal research and development biologist, studying the efficacy of naturally derived drugs against cancer and malaria. Time will tell how long the Trott-Ole Miss employment streak will continue.
Collectively, the Trotts are touched that Don and Emily Newcomb made this grand gesture for the university they all hold dear.
“This is one more chapter to the story; the boys loved my dad and they loved him,” Judy Trott reflected. “My dad refereed their baseball and basketball games and was a jokester with them. Then, Guy looked after my grandmother by sending her medications in the mail from his pharmacy until the day she died. Don was our dentist and I don’t think he ever charged us a dime. I was certainly surprised to hear about this scholarship endowment, but it is perfectly characteristic coming from that family.”
Don Newcomb hopes that more people realize the power they have to help others.
“Dr. and Mrs. Trott couldn’t have known what the future would hold, but their generosity did not affect Guy alone; their gift helped me and now will benefit many more. You never know the full impact you will have through just one act of kindness.”
Individuals and organization that wish to contribute to the Trott Family Scholarship Endowment can mail a check made payable to the University of Mississippi Foundation with the fund noted in the memo line to the UM Foundation, 406 University Avenue, Oxford, MS 38655. Online gifts can be made at umfoundation.com/makeagift
. For more information about securing your own family’s legacy or to honor someone through a scholarship fund, visit umfoundation.planmylegacy.org
or call 662-915-5944.