Those surprised by the news of Dean Foy’s death this past weekend fall into two groups: Baby Boomers who live in Birmingham and Atlanta and who rarely get back to Auburn and who remember him as “oh yeah, ol’ Dean Foy” and who thought, good grief, he was surely already dead, and folks who live wherever and who regularly saw him honored at football games and heard him lead ancient cheers at basketball games and who thought, War Eagle forever, he might never die.
Kenny, another Auburn Gen X’er who should only know Foy as a building and a phone number, put it perfectly: “Dean James Edgar Foy was 93. He is survived by the entire Auburn family, all of whom are grateful for either knowing him or benefiting from a legacy he helped establish. Dean Foy is an Auburn man.”
And for three generations of Auburn students (and for young’ns preoccupied with Auburn lore like Kenny and me), he was the absolute incarnation of Auburn Spirit.
(I mean, just look at that picture from the 1976 Glom– it’s not that he agreed or even volunteered to take part in a cheer routine, or that he did that kind of stuff all the time and he could be heard crowing “War Eagle” from his office every afternoon like a rooster. It’s not that this picture was snapped during a particularly depressing Florida game…No, the Thousand Words of that picture is his form. Look at his arms. Look at his hands. The man was the best cheerleader Auburn has ever had.)
Possibly more than anyone else, Dean Foy is responsible for my certainty that, in some wacky, metaphysical way, Auburn is the inspiration for every college scene Walt Disney Pictures ever filmed.
This is something I learned while reflecting on and researching said certainty for a related project I’ve been working on for years now, one you’ve no doubt seen referenced several times with varying degrees of gusto (and which explains TWER’s enviable access to photos of Auburn in the 1970s).
I don’t want to come across here as if I’m looking at Dean Foy’s death as an opportunity to revive interest – that of potential readers, and even my own – in an unfinished book centered around the legacy of the streaking fad at Auburn University.
But it has reminded me of how fortunate I was to twice spend several hours in the home not only of someone who could give me a quote about panty raids and pep rallies, but of someone so very, very strong in the faith, and to press on with what he told me was – and I’ll always love him for it— “an important book to write.”
Some of what you’re about to read (sure, maybe for the second or third time) might one day be a chapter in that book (which, yes, I’m once again planning to craft and articulate with TWER). And it is the first of several remarkable, soon-to-come offerings of Foy-related ephemera from once upon a time in the loveliest village of the plain. Because now is a good time for it. And because Dean Foy was awesome.
I wonder what his last words were? Probably “War Eagle.”
That’s not schmaltz. It’s an educated guess.
It was early in the research, a couple of years ago. It was in the afternoon. I still remember what it felt like. I wish I was there now. I’m on Glenn Avenue, in my office. I had an office for a little while, across from Glenn Dean drugs, or what was once Glenn Dean, what will always be Glenn Dean. It wasn’t cloudy, it wasn’t sunny. It was just kind of just right. Concentrating was hard back then, and the afternoon is about to hit the crucial point of decision, and if you can’t muster something –anything–to sink your teeth into at just that moment, the day is going to be a waste. So we here go.
I knew Dean Foy was still alive before the Tulane game. But that game, homecoming 2006, the first I took my daughter to, he led the stadium in a “War Eagle.” A thousand years old and he’s still out there, still a cheerleader. Did he even need a mic? I don’t know. I just knew then that he was more than just still alive. A lot of them aren’t, though. (I had just called Chief Dawson’s house. He was still listed in the phone book. I asked for him, and a woman told me he wasn’t there, “he’s deceased–ten years.” It was his widow. “Oh, I’m sorry, well, but say, you wouldn’t by chance have any stories…” and of course she did.)
So I Google Dean Foy’s number on a whim (because whims are the only way I can do things sometimes). I find it. I call him. He answers and sounds the way you want an old, old man to sound.
“Well, why don’t you come on over and we’ll talk. Yessir, yessir, all right now, bye.”
He hangs up.
I hang up and say “touchdown” out loud, true story. The movie cameras are trained on me, so I had to. This is about to be a big scene, a really big deal. I’m taking my sweet, obsessive time with my gear and notes. My movements are slow and deliberate. I will not forget anything. But my heart is racing. It’s racing now just thinking about it. I pretty much knew where his house was but I still print out a map. I was in my Birmingham grandmother’s car, a candy apple red Lincoln Town Car; it’s a long story. But I thought it might give me some credibility with him, in case he was watching out the window.
I drive through our wonderful, wonderful neighborhoods and it’s magic, oh man, the brick houses built in the ‘50s and ‘60s, the Volvos of professors parked under blankets of kudzu, the soft October sun sighing for dusk in the afternoon trees… oh God, it was great.
I find the house, it’s on my right. The first thing I notice is the Auburn pinwheel by the mailbox, spinngly slowly with the breeze. It’s a wood house, dark brown. Almost looks like a cabin. There are azaleas and dogwoods in the yard. It’s October, but they’re Dean Foy’s azaleas so of course they’re still in bloom. “Ten years ago in that yard there were 200 pine trees, this big around and 85 feet tall,” he tells me later. They cut them all down. I don’t know how 200 trees could have fit in that yard, but it’s Dean Foy, so yes sir.
I go up the steps. I’m trick or treating. I’m picking a girl up for a dance. There’s a hand-colored poster board taped to his front door. Big bubble letters spell out “Soar Like a War Eagle” just above a drawing of an eagle, a big one, totally colored in, even the head, golden brown, historically accurate. Underneath it is a computer printout of the type of fighter plane he flew in WWII (which I learn about later). The wind chime? Polished orange and blue rocks, dangling from wood gnarled into the Auburn logo. I’m snapping pictures. I take pictures of everything. The bells of Samford Hall chime 3:45. Far away, a dog barks. End scene. How I would love to wrestle in the yard with that beautiful Auburn dog.
James E. Foy, the Dean of Student Affairs at Auburn University from 1950 to 1978, opens the door. His hair is still awesome, still Bozo. His handshake feels like Bo Jackson’s did when I was five. He’s wearing a gray Auburn T-shirt, neatly tucked into his pants. He lets me in.
The living room where he waits to turn 100 (when he’s not leading folks in the Auburn fight song or presenting sportsmanship trophies named in his honor or attending lectures on history he made and lived) is less a museum of collegiate totems and relics and more a nice, humble tapestry of what the Auburn Spirit can accomplish. Symbols of respect and admiration from his colleagues are all over the place. There are photographs of his successful daughters. I think to myself, these are provisions for the luxurious contemplation of God and what He intended for America. (Like, that line actually comes into my head for some reason.)
His nurse is down stairs, he tells me. She lives down there. Guess what else is down there? Never-before-seen footage, glued to 16 mm film on reels untouched since the ’40s and ’50s, of the once annual parade through the streets of Birmingham commemorating the renewed football rivalry between Auburn and Alabama. Foy helped organize it–he and Birmingham’s chief of police, Bull Connor.
“I need to go through those.”
“Yeah,” I say. “Yeah… I mean, if you… I mean I could, you know… help.”
So there we are on the couch and I swear he’s in better shape than I am. The cushions sink deeply in the middle, raising the ends up like wings. I have all my stuff around me: my digital dictaphones, my camera, my Glomeratas. To my left is a framed photo of him decked out in ski gear in Colorado in 2005, one year earlier. Like, he’s on the slopes, about to take off. There are old Auburn football programs underneath his remote control to my right, ones I already have. His yearbooks are across the room on a shelf, some so old the library barely has them, books with photos of his ancestors, and by that I mean his dad and uncles. I am behind the wizard’s curtain, but he’s totally real. He’s a cheerleader. “War Eagle” Foy, that’s what they called him… “Joy Boy” Foy. I’m looking at, and listening to and brushing knees with the god of rah-rah.
“Well,” I say, and start in a bit on the whole thing – what I’m working on, what’s brought me here, a pilgrim. I’m rambling, loudly. He’s listening. I hope he doesn’t laugh. I hope he doesn’t show me back to that awesome door. I wrap things up: “It might not sound like much of a bestseller but I think I’ve got a good vision for it.”
“I think it’s an important book to write,” he says. “Let’s look through the Glomerata and bring back some memories.” Brilliant — lights, camera… it’s like we’re reading a script.
And I’m so ready for. Let’s act it out, Dean Foy. Introduce me to the cast. I’m ready to share their secrets. I’m ready to wrap the prodigal robe around the good ol’ days. Let’s fire up the grill and tap the keg of that famous age-defying recall and unmatched passion, and let us together bless the minutia of 1970s university administration with the tone of high poetry.
We start at the beginning. We flip through the heavy 1974 Glom like it’s a Guttenberg. The naked people – the Genesis scenes – are coming up soon, pages 54 and 55.
Overcome by the moment, I actually read the page-by-page introduction out loud!
“This is a book of one year at Auburn…”
“… a year not unlike year’s past…”
“… but unique because it’s our own…”
“… important because it’s worth remembering…”
“… a collection of memories…”
“… concerning the events, the time… our time…”
Almost rip the page.
“… the styles that represent this year…”
“… but especially the people…”
“…for it’s the people who make Auburn…”
“… change Auburn…”
“… and make this place something special…”
We hit page 29. It has the words “the people of Auburn have determined what this year has been.”
Facing it from the left, on page 28, in a scene from a Sigma Chi fundraiser (Derby Days, I guess), there’s a picture in full golden color of a guy in a plaid shirt, blindfolded, getting kissed – like, deeply, deeply kissed – by this super-slender coed in striped knee socks. Her brown hair hangs down to her waist. An Auburn football patch with the words “War Eagle” is sewn on the pocket of the spectacular seat of her short, cut-off blue jean shorts, Her t-shirt is tucked in tight. Her body is pressed against him; Larry Parker, the photographer and that year’s editor, told me the guy actually passed out. You stare at the photo and can believe it. It’s the sexiest thing I’ve ever seen.
I say, “Wow, there’s somethin’, huh?”
Foy points to the guy. He smiles.
“Is that me?”
Oh man, that was great! I laugh and laugh and laugh. We keep going, the nudity is getting closer, I’m about to be looking at pictures of breasts and butts with Dean Foy.
The last line to the introduction – and it’s pure poetry – is next to a photo of a setting sun kissing the horizon of a dark county road.
“So remember us, for we’ll remember you.”
…….Finally there, pages 54 and 55. It gets kind of quiet. Dean Foy was in there amongst them. With a flashlight.
“And so I was just wanting to get your perspective on all this,” I say. “I mean, you know, you imagine your parents generation as being more conservative, a little more prudish and everything, and yet here they are, here they are streaking. I mean, and not only that, there’s pictures of it in the yearbook.”
“Yeah… yeah,” he says.
He looks a little more, then looks up. He closes the book, puts it down and looks straight ahead, over the coffee table with the tiger figurine, out the window with the eagle decal, off into the distance.
I can feel it, here it comes, the key to the secrets of Auburn’s 1974.
“In my mind,” he says, “this all goes back to the great panty raid of 1947…”
If you have any Dean Foy stories or any streaking stories (and haven’t written already), please feel free to email me at [email protected]
More on the book coming soon.
If you like TWER and want to see it keep on keepin’ on, you can.