If you take Viola Lightfoot’s year of retirement and subtract the year that she was hired, you get 40 years. It’s an incredible tenure, but 40 years of service really isn’t accurate for Viola Lightfoot ’34. She started working for the College in 1930 – just days after arriving as a student.
Then-Registrar Anna Jones had hired her as an Assistant in the Personnel Office. Viola had already attended a business college and was a proficient office worker. One of her first assignments – at 15 cents an hour! – was taking dictation and typing letters for president emeritus Dr. Samuel Tyndale Wilson. Among her projects was assisting with Dr. Wilson’s 1935 Second Century Beginnings publication of Maryville College history.
Miss Jones died a month before Viola’s commencement, leaving the 24-year-old to determine who was graduating and who wasn’t. Figuring requirements and rolling up diplomas until the very last second, she almost missed her own commencement exercises.
Although Viola assumed Miss Jones’ job, from 1934 until the late 1940s, she held the title “Assistant to the Registrar.” She also served as Assistant Dean of Students for a time, and while Dr. Frank McClelland was away at war, performed his duties as well.
As Registrar, she kept meticulous student records, learned the correct pronunciation of every student’s name, had an amazing memory for the curriculum and amassed countless hours of overtime to get the job done, but none of these she considered a great achievement. Before her own death in 2001, she said she hoped she would be remembered for her willingness to listen and her willingness to advise.
“I would listen to students, listen to their grief. A lot of times, I went beyond what was required. I was probably more patient than some teachers,” she said in a 1999 interview.
But she listened to the complaints of teachers, too, administrators and parents. And she shared in plenty of celebrations – particularly those graduations of students whom she urged along.
In 1972, two years before her retirement, Maryville College awarded her an honorary doctorate. She was commended for her “outstanding dedication to the College, her personal commitment to the highest of Christian standards, and the skill and wisdom with which she carried her work.”
Who knows how many hours Viola Lightfoot spent in that front office of Anderson Hall? If you do the math, 100,000 hours is about right. She may not have loved every minute of her job, but she certainly enjoyed most of it.
Nephew Dale Motsinger wrote the College recently: “She would be honored [to be an Anderson Hall Legend]. Maryville College was her life. She loved working there, being in academia, and helping students.”