CULLOWHEE - A couple’s love for the Western North Carolina mountains and its people will continue beyond their lives with the establishment of the John A. Parris Jr. and Dorothy Luxton Parris Distinguished Professorship in Appalachian Cultural Studies at Western Carolina University.

The late John and Dorothy Parris of Sylva and Laurel Cove were longtime Western Carolina supporters and Patrons of Quality.

The $500,000 professorship, augmented by matching funds provided by the State of North Carolina and the C.D. Spangler Foundation’s Challenge Grant for Endowed Distinguished Professorships, will provide Western with assistance for a full professor in the interdisciplinary area of Appalachian studies. The appointment could be anchored in the university’s departments of anthropology, art, communication and theatre arts, English or history, within Western’s College of Arts and Sciences.

The Parris Distinguished Professorship is the seventh endowed Western professorship.

“It is particularly fitting that their assets will be used to enrich the region they loved so well,” Western Carolina Chancellor John Bardo said in announcing the professorship.

Dorothy Luxton Parris, who died in 1995, was a skilled artist--with achievements in art, in writing, and in creative consultancies--in New York and other cities. She married John in New York City, and in 1947 moved with John to his boyhood home of Jackson County.  Through the years, she became broadly involved in civic and community service in WNC, especially focusing on the cultural advantages and life-changing influences of art and music on public school children.

John Parris, recognized most readily in his later years for his “Roaming the Mountains” newspaper columns in the Asheville Citizen-Times and for his books on his beloved mountains and their people, also led an illustrious and adventurous earlier life as an internationally read correspondent in New York City and in wartime London.

Parris was born Nov. 23, 1914, and died May 17, 1999, at the age of 84. He began writing at an early age for the local newspaper in Sylva and was a correspondent for daily newspapers in Asheville, Charlotte, Raleigh and other cities, and for both the United Press and Associated Press wire services.

He joined the United Press in Raleigh as a full-time employee, later moving to the New York City UP Bureau. Parris wrote for the Winston-Salem Journal-Sentinel for two years before rejoining the UP at its bureau in Memphis, Tenn. He returned to the New York City bureau and then began covering the diplomatic beat in London in March 1941. He covered the invasion of North Africa with the troops landing at Arzew in 1942.

He joined the Associated Press news bureau in 1944 and remained in London as a foreign correspondent until May 1946, when he returned to New York to cover the United Nations.

Parris left the Associated Press and came back to WNC in 1947 to concentrate on creative writing. He recorded the history of the region’s native people in 1950’s “The Cherokee Story,” and in 1950 was appointed public relations director of the Cherokee Historical Society and its drama, “Unto These Hills.”

He began writing a regular column for the Asheville Citizen-Times in 1955. Titled “Roaming the Mountains,” the popular column would become the basis for five books, including “My Mountains, My People,” winner of the Thomas Wolfe Memorial Award in 1957.  Parris made two trips to China, each resulting in a series of columns in the Citizen-Times that were made into books, which were printed in China in English and Chinese. Parris retired from the Asheville Citizen-Times as a senior editor in 1997, ending his column after 42 years of continuous publication.

Parris had a long affiliation with Western Carolina University, covering the university’s early athletics program as a young newspaper correspondent. He helped establish Western’s journalism studies program and assisted in developing the university’s first Board of Visitors. He championed the establishment of a center to preserve the traditions and cultures of the WNC mountains, which led to the founding of the Mountain Heritage Center at the university.

In 1975, he received the first Mountain Heritage Award, given annually by the university as part of its Mountain Heritage Day celebration. The university nominated him for the Laurel Leaf Award of the Appalachian Consortium, which he won in 1980. He received an honorary doctorate from WCU in 1998 - the first person in nearly four decades to receive a doctor of humane letters degree from Western.

John Parris designated Doug Reed, retired WCU director of public information and newspaper colleague of Parris, as executor of his estate and his biographer. Reed is now working on “The John Parris Story,” and welcomes information, photographs or accounts related to either John or Dorothy.  Materials should be sent to Doug Reed, 931 University Heights Road, Cullowhee, N.C. 28723.

In addition to the professorship, Western’s Mountain Heritage Center received various artifacts from the estate, including handcrafted items and a set of watch-making tools. Western’s Hunter Library obtained various books, tapes and papers.

“The research materials of John Parris are important additions to Hunter Library collections,” said Bil Stahl, university librarian.

“John Parris’ writings about both the history and individuals of the mountain region, his involvement in many regional organizations, and his active promotion of the area resulted in his having collected a wide range of unique source materials, including manuscripts, correspondence, pamphlets, booklets, reports, photographs and sound recordings. These sources will be very valuable to scholars in many different disciplines as they conduct research into the history and development of the region.”

In the photograph...

John A. Parris Jr. and Dorothy Luxton Parris were longtime supporters of Western Carolina University.

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Last modified: Friday, July 12, 2002
Copyright 2002 by Western Carolina University