Long time resident and proponent of Columbus history passes away

Frances “Fran” Ledyard Ivy, a proponent for women’s education, former president of the Mississippi University for Women Alumnae Association, historic preservationist and twice columnist for this newspaper, died Wednesday. She was 92.

Known for her indomitable presence, most evident during the Ayers hearings in the mid-90’s when MUW was threatened with closure, Ivy was a respected, revered and feared advocate for causes she cared about.

At least one state lawmaker when asked how he was going to vote on matters affecting The W, replied, “I’m going to vote how Miss Fran tells me to vote.”

Born on Sept. 28, 1916, she was the youngest of five children of the late Joshua Heard Ledyard, the president and general manager of the Tupelo Cotton Mills, the city’s largest employer, and his wife Anne Robins Ledyard.
After attending the public schools in Tupelo, at age 16, Mrs. Ivy entered Mississippi State College for Women, and thus began an affiliation that would remain strong and productive for both. On graduation in the last days of the Depression in 1937, she taught briefly at a rural school in Marshall County, where she encountered poverty and illiteracy that would inform her volunteer activities in later years. For four years, she taught English and speech at S.D. Lee High School, where she met her future husband, Robert Adams Ivy, who taught history across the hall.

In 1949, she and her husband restored one of the city’s oldest homes, a modified log house on Seventh Street North formerly owned by Gen. Stephen D. Lee called Hickory Sticks, on whose grounds she established the Ivy Shop in the early 1950s, a distinctive store featuring books and the work of Mississippi artists. There she welcomed and got to know such Mississippi writers as the late Louise Crump, and Hodding and Betty Carter of Greenville, Wyatt Cooper of New York, the artist Hazel Guggenheim McKinley of New Orleans, Charlotte Capers, and Eudora Welty from Jackson, many of whom she hosted for literary evenings.

She and her husband opened Hickory Sticks to the public through the annual pilgrimage to ante-bellum homes for 25 years, appeared in publications such as the New York Times, and she twice chaired the homeowners association.

In the 1960s, concerned about the erosion of Columbus’ treasury of ante-bellum homes, she sought and received a real estate brokers license, unusual for women at that time, in order to find a new generation of stewards for old houses, for which she received the Leadership in Preservation Award from Historic Columbus, Inc.

“I’ve known her for a long time,” Lillian Wade, an MUW graduate and friend of Ivy’s, said this morning. “She was quite a role model for us, not just as a W alum, but she was a role model for all of us. She was interested in historic preservation and then I got to know her as a W alum. I’ve always respected and admired her and I’m really sad that she’s not with us anymore.

“I think we’d have lost a lot more of our historic homes in Columbus, if Fran had not taken the initiative, a long time ago, to stop the destruction of a lot of our grand old homes,” she continued. “And, as far as the W is concerned, she was just the ultimate alum. She taught us how to be dedicated to the W, by her example.”

Following her husband’s death in 1991 and seeking new challenges, Frances Ivy reinvigorated her relationship with MUW, raising a highly successful legal defense fund for the alumnae association during a litigious period, as well as scholarships in honor of her class of 1937. Faced with possible closure as a result of a lawsuit known as the Ayers case, Mrs. Ivy personally marshaled her extensive alumnae network to stare down the opposition, traveling to federal court each day to represent the “W” in Judge Neal Biggers’s courtroom, meeting regularly with the press, and ultimately winning representation by legal counsel for the university. Stories about her and the band of committed alums appeared in the Clarion Ledger in Jackson and the Commercial Appeal in Memphis, among others.

“My association with Fran was through the MUW alums and she was a staunch supporter and a hard worker,” Frances Jutman this morning said of Ivy. “I worked closely with her when we were trying to raise money. You just have to admire someone who will put that much effort and energy into helping and supporting the university.”

In 1999, she raised over $1.3 million from alumnae resources in record-breaking time to establish a scholarship fund in honor of president Clyda Stokes Rent. For a brief but productive time, Frances Ivy joined the staff of MUW, in a consulting capacity, where she served in a role of Institutional Advancement, calling on potential donors and supporters throughout the country with the President Rent. Mrs. Ivy was twice honored by the “W”: in 1991, with the university’s Alumni Achievement Award, and in 1995, with the MUW Medal of Excellence, the university’s highest honor.

She was the first woman to serve on the Columbus Planning Commission, appointed in 1968, at a time that the city engaged in a major planning effort. In 1974, she was appointed as one of four women to the advisory board of the National Bank of Commerce, now known as Cadence Bank, a position she held for decades.

A committed Methodist, Mrs. Ivy taught a class at First United Methodist Church for decades beginning in the late 1940s.

Writing opened doors beyond her home. Twice she served as a columnist for this newspaper: first with a column of book reviews in the 1950s, with a column titled, “Browsing with Frances Ivy,” and in the 1990s she returned with a popular column, “Strolling.” With her husband Robert, she co-authored a book of reminiscences about the Black Prairie, called “A Boy’s Will.”

She also self-published in paperback collections of her columns.

She leaves one son, Robert Adams Ivy, Jr., and daughter-in-law, Holly Hall Ivy, of New York, NY, and Columbus; three grandchildren (and their spouses), Virginia Ivy and husband Daren Dortin, Robert Adams Ivy III, and Benjamin Ledyard Ivy; one great-grandchild, Henry Moss Ivy.

Funeral services will be held Saturday. Memorial Funeral Home is in charge of arrangements.

Robert Ivy contributed to this report.

SOURCE: The Commercial Dispatch, 3 December 2008

Published in: on December 4, 2008 at 3:58 pm  Leave a Comment  

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