Who signed off on this?

October 21st, 2010

In the beginning, it worked as a tribute to them, and as a fountain, and as a work of art. Then it was turned into a flagstand, and then turned over into a flowerbed. Now, it's a sign base.

They deserve better from us.

As published in The Daily News, October 22, 2010, and in The Memphis News, October 23-24, 2010 

What do we think of our veterans? The University of Memphis has shown us a sign.

Two weeks ago, I wrote a column about my father and lots of fathers, about war and lots of sacrifice, about lasting tributes that don't, and about public art that privately disappears. All of that is embodied in the tribute turned flower pot in front of the new law school Downtown. All that remains is the inscription, the fountain sculpture above 40 years gone and all but forgotten. I wrote with a sense of melancholy for what we might consider important.

Now I'm just mad.

When I was writing the first column, Jimmy Ogle, keen observer of our passing parade and Memphis history treasure trove, sent me an old photo of the original tribute that his friend, Wally Johnston, had. This week, he sent me a new shot.

If my father, the wiry Seabee I introduced you to in that column, had seen it, he would have already turned somebody's desk upside down and I'd be raising bail.

I have a couple of desks in mind myself.

Right smack dab in the middle of what used to be a fountain pool, front and center in what used to be a tribute, right above words that used to mean something, the University of Memphis has placed a sign. A big, permanent sign.

Now, as you approach what was dedicated to be public tribute and public art, at best, you'll think that the entire law school is a tribute to the veterans of two wars – or, at worst – be confused by messages in conflicting stone and typefaces. And I quote:

"The University of Memphis/Cecil C. Humphreys School of Law
In grateful tribute to those who served in World War II and the Korean War"

As a Memphian, I'm proud of the new law school and optimistic about what it represents. I'm proud of our zoo, too, but I don't think we should hang a sign for it off the Doughboy's bayonet in Overton Park. I'm proud of Memphis In May, but I don't believe we should support it by sticking a promotional sign in the Tom Lee Memorial.

If the University of Memphis can't see what's wrong with this picture, then I wonder about the vision of the institution. Instead of leading an effort to restore the fountain and the tribute, there or somewhere else, they throw up a sign that screams we made this from something else.

That's not fair to anyone. Not to the veterans. Not to all those who made such a beautiful success out of converting an iconic building.

I truly believe the opening of the law school is a turning point for Downtown and for our city, a point of pride for us, and a point taken by those watching us and looking for progress.

This is no way to mark it.

I’m a Memphian, asking somebody, please, to show those who served a sign of respect.



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