Thursday, September 15, 2005

Pat Neff, Practical Joker

Pat Neff, the former Texas governor who served as Baylor's president from 1932 to 1947, was often characterized as puritanical, stern and humorless. But as this example from 1940 shows, he indeed had a sense of humor, albeit one that sometimes required others to be scared to death first before it revealed itself.

This story began weeks earlier when Neff announced to the student body that their upcoming Christmas holidays would begin earlier than first announced. A group of Baylor boys, overjoyed at the news, did the unthinkable and in their exuberance lifted Neff to their shoulders and carried him around campus in celebration.

Once the excitement had died down, I'm sure the boys were wondering how Neff would react to his treatment. He was famous for calling out students during daily chapel services whom he had found guilty of smoking or drinking or other prohibited conduct, and ordering them to leave Baylor immediately as punishment for their sins. So when these boys were called to Neff's office, I'm betting they feared the worst.

Waco News-Tribune
January 5, 1940

Neff Scares Six Boys Who Lifted Him to Shoulder

Kidnaping Charge Hurled at Speechless Students Before Autographed Pictures Presented

Six Baylor university boys, who two weeks ago raised President Pat M. Neff to their shoulders and carried him across the campus amid shouts of praise from the student body on the occasion of an earlier-than-scheduled Christmas recess, Thursday were tributed by the executive but only after he scared them out of their wits.

Neff announced in sternest manner at the Thursday chapel for the boys who "kidnaped" him on the previous occasion to report to his office at 4:45 p.m.

Six Timid Lads

Six timid lads showed up, afraid of the consequences but more afraid of a refusal to obey a presidential summons. They were Robert Nelson, Bryan; James Drury, Calvert; and W.B. Godbold, Quanah, all football men, and R.P. Watson Jr., Marshall; Bryan Glass, China, and Scott Hunter, Wichita Falls, equally as husky.

The president asked them if they did not feel they should be punished for kidnaping the institution's president.

No one spoke.

"All right," he barked, "who's going to be the spokesman?"

More silence.

"If you had to kidnap somebody, why did you pick on me?" Neff continued questioning.

"We figured that while we were at it, we'd better get the biggest man around," a brave soul ventured with an idea of possibly incurring some favor.

Face Their Doom

Neff persisted in his idea that the boys had committed a grave offense against the dignity of his presidential office. Nothing would do except that the boys be punished severely. The boys were white, knowing full well now that their dooms were sealed.

And then at the tensest moment, Neff's thin-lipped expression twisted into a smile. He drew from his desk six photographs of himself and presented one to each of the boys. Autographed across the bottom of each were the words:

"In memory of a triumphant ride. Pat M. Neff."