No one dies without leaving a legacy. Going forward, the late Will Marsalis’ impact will be measured through the hope, support and resources offered to University of Mississippi students in recovery from addiction.
Will, 37, passed away on July 4, 2018, and his footprint is being expanded through a $500,000 gift from his parents, Jodie and Dr. Wilton Lowell “Bo” Marsalis of Oxford, Mississippi. The commitment to Ole Miss will honor their son’s memory and provide students increased educational benefits and wellness services, particularly through the Collegiate Recovery Community (CRC).
The Marsalis gift will close a gap in support for the CRC, which was founded in 2010 on the Oxford campus and can be key to the academic and life achievements of undergraduate and graduate students in recovery.
The atrium of Ole Miss’ new 100,000-square-foot South Campus Recreation Facility will be named for Will Marsalis, who was loved by his family, found great joy in his niece and nephews, and valued his friendships – never meeting a stranger.
“Will only needed to know someone for a short time before he would consider them among his best friends,” said his father, Bo Marsalis of Oxford, Mississippi.
“Will had a large group of friends – lifelong friends – from Meridian (Mississippi), where he grew up, and from Ole Miss. He truly loved all his friends.”
Nurturing friendships came easy for her son, said Jodie Marsalis, because of “his big heart, his being a great listener and his having a beautiful, unforgettable smile.”
John Marsalis of Oxford echoed his mom: “The thing that I admired most about my brother was the love he showed, his commitment to, and the undying loyalty he had to each and every one of his many friends. Strong bonds and relationships with others were so important to Will, and it was those relationships that helped give him strength during difficult times.”
Sister Amanda Marsalis Bruss of Florence, Alabama, described him as a person who always cared about others.
“Will loved people well. Growing up, he was my constant companion and in more recent years he was such an adoring uncle. I always admired his capacity to love and how he treasured his friends. I know for those fighting addiction, strong relationships are vital. I wanted him to always know that I loved him no matter what,” Bruss said.
“My hope is that this memorial gift will help foster the necessary relationships and support for students and their families who are battling the awful disease of addiction,” she continued.
The other object of Will Marsalis’ attention was Ole Miss, where he attended college, as did his dad, brother and sister. He cared so much about the university that the Marsalis family knew it was where they wanted to further his legacy by making an impact on students’ lives.
“Will loved Ole Miss and especially athletics events. And, the fact that the new William Magee Center for Wellness Education is connected to the university made this a natural fit for our goals of honoring Will’s life,” his dad said. “Jodie and I see this as an opportunity to help other students and families, hopefully by preventing addiction and by focusing on support for those in recovery.”
The Magee Center, which will be dedicated Sept. 6, is named for William Magee, a young alumnus who lost his life to a 2013 overdose while trying to overcome addiction. More than $2 million in gifts and pledges of all sizes have been made to this center, which will serve all Ole Miss students. The CRC will be part of the Magee Center, led by Erin Cromeans.
“Over several years, the CRC Advisory Board has discussed a strategic plan to help foster a supportive recovery community, provide opportunities for growth and ultimately impact campus culture,” said Cromeans. “After benchmarking was conducted against peer institutions, it was clear that many thriving CRCs had full-time program coordinators who were solely dedicated to the work of the respective recovery community.
“That’s what the Marsalis family’s gift will do for our program. Initially, we will be able to hire a graduate assistant to help with the CRC’s daily operations. The long-term impact of these resources, coupled with the Magee Center, will enable us to hire a full-time coordinator. The Marsalis family’s gift will have the greatest impact on our CRC since its inception.”
Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs Brandi Hephner LaBanc expressed her gratitude to the Marsalis family for helping the university address a challenge experienced by the nation’s higher education community and society at large.
“We are grateful to the Marsalis family for making such a tremendous investment in our students, helping support the university in providing targeted health and wellness initiatives. Our CRC provides a safe place where there is a strong circle of support and services to help students navigate through whatever time they have remaining in their college careers. This generous gift will have a far-reaching impact, while honoring a beloved son.”
Thousands of Ole Miss students will see the name of Will Marsalis as they pass through the atrium of the South Campus Recreation Facility. One thing Jodie Marsalis hopes people will remember when they see his name is something she learned from Will.
“He taught me never to judge another person,” she said. “You never know what someone may be struggling with, and anyone with addiction is struggling with some type of pain.”
The financial support the Marsalis family has provided will be enhanced by their engagement with the CRC.
“We want to do whatever we can to wholeheartedly support these efforts with our time,” said Bo Marsalis, who earned an undergraduate degree from the Oxford campus before going on to receive a Ph.D. and a medical degree on the University of Mississippi Medical Center campus. He practiced anesthesiology in Meridian, Mississippi, for many years before moving to Oxford.
Jodie Marsalis graduated from the University of Alabama and for a time was a high school teacher of Spanish and world history at Jackson Preparatory School.
Individuals and organizations can contribute to the Will Marsalis Collegiate Recovery Community Fund by sending a check to the University of Mississippi Foundation, with the fund’s name noted in the memo line, to 406 University Ave., Oxford, MS 38655; or online at https://give.olemiss.edu.
For more information, contact Denson Hollis, executive director of development, at email@example.com or 662-915-5092.
By Tina H. Hahn
Editor’s Note: The University of Mississippi’s CRC is open to undergraduate and graduate students enrolled in a minimum of three credit hours. While any student can connect to the CRC early in his/her sobriety, the student cannot become a full member eligible for scholarship benefits until set requirements are met. Among them are a minimum of three months of continuous sobriety, submission of a biographical or recovery statement, abstinence from alcohol and/or drugs at all times, completion of academic advising requirements, attendance at weekly seminars focused on recovery topics, participation in weekly Recovery Night and compliance with other university-related obligations.