Ex-MVSU chief, Vicksburg native dies in Hattiesburg

Published 12:00 am Monday, March 15, 2010

Dr. Ernest A. Boykins, Vicksburg native and former president of Mississippi Valley State University, died Sunday, March 14, 2010, at his home. He was 78.

Dr. Boykins was MVSU’s second president, presiding from 1971 to 1981 during the period which saw the Delta school granted university status. After retiring from higher education, Dr. Boykins built a second career as well as a volunteer ministry counseling patients at Pine Grove Behavioral Health and Addiction Services in Hattiesburg.

Even during his illness, though, education and teaching remained his passions, said his son, Darryl Boykins of Farragut, Tenn.

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“He told my mother, you can cancel all my subscriptions except the education journal,” his son said.

Under Dr. Boykins’ leadership, MVSU added departments including Aerospace Studies, Family and Community Services, Library Science, Military Science and Environmental Health, as well as the first master’s degree program.

“MVSU lost a true gentleman and a great leader,” current president Dr. Donna H. Oliver said in a statement released by the university. “I first met Dr. Boykins during last year’s Founder’s Week activities and it was an honor to present him with the 2009 J.H. White Preeminence Award for Education/Academics during the annual scholarship gala.”

“When he went to Valley State one of the first things he did was tell the principals in Vicksburg, ‘If there’s any student that wants to come, you just let me know and it won’t cost them a cent,’” said his brother, Lonnie Boykins of Vicksburg. “He found them work-study jobs so they could earn their way through.”

Former Vicksburg alderman Gertrude Young was one of those Dr. Boykins and his sister, Cherrie McClelland of Vicksburg, helped get an academic scholarship and to get through school.

“It was a great honor for me because at that time I was the first person in my family to go to college,” Young said today. “It just turned my life around. I will always be grateful to Dr. Boykins and Mrs. McClelland for that.”

Before his term at MVSU, Dr. Boykins was head of the Division of Arts and Sciences at Alcorn State University, and after taught biology at the University of Southern Mississippi before his retirement.

“Dr. Boykins was a great professor, a great leader,” said Dr. John Walls, deputy superintendent of Vicksburg Warren School District, who majored in biology at Alcorn under Dr. Boykins. “He inspired all his students — though it sounds like a cliche, it was true — to be the best they could be.”

Dr. Boykins resigned from MVSU in 1981 after the school suffered financial problems. He also pleaded guilty in 1988 to tax evasion, but said it was the result of an accounting error and paid all back taxes, his brother said.

After retirement, Dr. Boykins continued to be active in the Hattiesburg community, Lonnie Boykins said. Besides his work at Pine Grove, he volunteered by visiting with patients at the center’s parent organization, Forrest General Hospital.

“He loved working with the people at Pine Grove and talking to the patients,” Lonnie Boykins said.

Dr. Boykins earned a bachelor’s degree in biology from Xavier University in 1953, a master’s degree at Texas Southern University and a doctorate from Michigan State University.

Dr. Boykins was the oldest of five children. “Until he died he was still like a patriarch,” said Lonnie Boykins. “Anytime we needed any help and advice, we always called on him.”

He is also survived by his wife, Beverly Malveaux Boykins of Hattiesburg.; three daughters, Rhea Allen of Dallas, Constance Rogers of Chula Vista, Calif., and Karen Cooper of Charlotte, N.C.; another brother, Danny Boykins of Indianapolis; two sisters, Cherrie B. McClelland of Vicksburg and Phoebe Boykins Dixon of Washington, D.C.; and grandchildren.

Services are tentatively scheduled for 10 a.m. Friday at St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Vicksburg, followed by burial at Cedar Hill Cemetery. Visitation will be Wednesday from 6 until 8 p.m. at Holy Rosary Catholic Church in Hattiesburg. Visitation is also tentatively scheduled for 9 a.m. at St. Mary’s.

Century Funeral Home in Hattiesburg and Jefferson Burial Association of Vicksburg have charge of arrangements.

Contact Pamela Hitchins at phitchins@vicksburgpost.com