History’s Lost Moments published in The Moultrie News on Wednesday, January 13, 2010 (Mt Pleasant, SC)
Farewell To A Southern Historian, John Stanford Coussons
Picture caption: John Stanford Coussons, Ph.D., was a captain in the naval reserves and a full-time history professor at the Citadel for 41 years. When he retired in 1999, Mayor Joe Riley proclaimed the day “John Coussons Day.”
¶On New Year’s Eve a light went out in Charleston. John Stanford Coussons slipped quietly into the pages of history that he himself so cherished. The stately funeral at his beloved Cathedral of St. Luke and St. Paul on January 4 was a memorial service fitting for a man who’d been a professor, mentor, and role-model for hundreds of former Citadel cadets. ¶The muffled tread of fourteen honorary pallbearers, many of them his former students, conferred a military aura as the Cathedral’s tracker organ played the music to “Glorious things of Thee are spoken, Zion City of our God.” . ¶With church bells peeling and two-hundred men dressed in black, even motorists on Coming Street knew that a Charleston legend was being laid to rest. ¶A noted history scholar, naval captain, and southern gentleman of the old order, John S. Coussons made an impression upon all that knew him. His legacy is two generations of students who value virtue, scholarship, and thrive on the concept of personal excellence because of their association with him.
¶As a professor John Coussons was a history student’s dream-come-true . There was never a dull moment. John’s dry humor was part of every lesson. ¶Forty-two years ago a dozen Citadel plebes, or knobs as they are called, waited at section marker 14 outside Capers Hall for U.S. History Survey 101. They single-filed up four flights of stairs and stood silently by their old-fashioned wooden desks until the officer in the crisp white naval uniform entered and quipped “Seats, gentlemen.” ¶To be referred to as “gentlemen” was a novel experience for those teenagers back in the fall of 1968. They were boys -- that is, until they entered the world of then Commander Coussons, lord of all in Capers Hall. In this Navy man’s realm even a classroom had a deck instead of a floor.
¶In this all-male college, ribald remarks about the past weekend were met by an equally humorous, but proper rejoinder by the professor and the day’s lesson was back on task.
¶Over the course of the first semester, the no-nonsense nautical man introduced “knobs” to a lot of things they’d never known. United States history was his passion and southern history was his forte. The age of Calhoun was as real to John as if he’d lived it. Yet, this southerner also gave a moving tribute to Martin Luther King, Jr.
¶Occasionally John paid tribute to his mentor at Louisiana State University, the late Civil War historian, T. Harry Williams. Williams was a character on the LSU campus. T. Harry Williams often appeared in class, or at meetings of the Civil War Roundtable, cloaked in the uniform of one of Sherman’s Union Army colonels. LSU began over a hundred and fifty years ago as a military academy and Colonel William Tecumseh Sherman was its first chancellor! ¶Not only did John Coussons redefine the word “thorough” in academic assignments, but he also cared about shirt-tucks, uniform brass, and shoe shines! Nothing sloppy existed in this man’s realm. ¶“A gentleman carries two handkerchiefs, one for himself and one for a lady. A gentleman has a pen and paper handy at all times.” Coussons’ maxims provided a protocol for the daily interactions of hundreds at The Citadel in the four decades that he taught there.
¶John admired the legends and lore of his adopted South Carolina, but he was a product of another ‘Old South” state, Louisiana. Never did his eyes dance so as when he leaned back and regaled his audience with tales of “the Kingfisher,” himself Huey Long. Students first learned of political demagoguery through hearing almost firsthand accounts of southern kingpin of kickbacks.
¶One of the books that John quoted from regularly was The essential Mind of The South by the South Carolina-born newspaperman, W.J. Cash. John referred to this source frequently.
¶Because of Coussons, there are historians across the state who know that a lesson can dance across a student’s imagination if presented with passion and insight. He was one of the reasons why The Citadel’s Evening College was a success from its inception in the mid-1970s. Teachers desiring a graduate degree drove from as far away as Beaufort, Georgetown, and Orangeburg to sit in his graduate classes. ¶None ever forgot his passion, his wit, his biases -- and there were many biases. None failed to profit from John Coussons’ high standard of scholarship and gentlemanly decorum. ¶This professor questioned sources, tore apart conclusions, and was merciless on careless construction. Yet, he instilled in every student that thoroughness was paramount. For a slovenly appearance or a half-hearted effort, John Coussons had no patience. “Young man, you should rethink your purpose at this institution,” he’d remark to some underperforming cadet.
¶Unlike the multitude of other professors who confined their duties to the academic side of The Citadel, Captain Coussons joined with the military side of the campus as he served as a Tactical Officer for one of the 18 companies that make up the Corps. No one would ever forget on the bleakest of winter nights seeing this naval officer in his bridge coat making rounds through the barracks.
¶Above and beyond the call of duty, John served as advisor to St. Alban’s Episcopal Chapel on campus as well to The Citadel’s renowned Honor Court. During the 1960s and ‘70s Coussons lived at 301 East Bay. He turned that antebellum mansion into a football dorm during the months of summer school. Eight to a dozen football players boarded there and were kept to a strict regimen of studies, workouts, and meals. John rang a ship’s bell and his well-groomed charges stood by their chairs until the Captain said the blessing followed by “Seats, Gentlemen.” There was always free time for the footballers to go out on the town, but drunken revelry was a no-no.
¶Few professors in the 1960s took interest in students’ spiritual lives, but Coussons invited numerous cadets to attend the Cathedral of St. Luke and St. John with him on Sundays. Afterward, he invited them and their dates to brunch at his residence. He was Godfather to a dozen children of his former students. This historian cherishes the 42-year association that he had with Captain John S. Coussons who now lies beneath an oak along the Warren Street wall of the old Cathedral he loved -- surrounded by Haskells, Willetts, Herriots, and Cordes.