MONTICELLO, AR — Being president of Arkansas A&M College was never at the top of Claude Babin's wish list. When then-President Jack Mears resigned in early 1962 after reaching an impasse with the A&M board over a variety of issues, Board Chairman Clifton Trigg asked Dr. Babin to apply for the position.
"My primary love was always classroom teaching," Dr. Babin said in an interview in the fall 2007 edition of UAM Magazine. "I did not set out to be president of Arkansas A&M."
Dr. Babin may not have wanted the job, but the A&M board refused to take no for an answer. He was named interim president in May 1962, then reluctantly accepted the position full-time in July, beginning a 15-year term as the last president of Arkansas A&M and the first chancellor of the University of Arkansas at Monticello.
Claude Babin died Saturday, February 25, 2017, at the age of 93, leaving behind a legion of admirers and a legacy of quiet, steady leadership that guided Arkansas A&M and UAM through turbulent times.
It was Dr. Babin who helped rebuild the frayed relationship between the College and the A&M board of trustees, who helped rebuild sagging faculty morale and guided the campus through a peaceful integration at the height of the civil rights movement. It was Dr. Babin who spent most of his 15 years as president and chancellor rebuilding the school's image in the eyes of a national accrediting agency and it was Dr. Babin who helped facilitate the merger of Arkansas A&M with the University of Arkansas. Add in the construction of the Science Center, Fine Arts Center, and Royer Hall, and it's not a bad resume` for a man who didn't want the job in the first place.
"In the brief time I knew Dr. Babin, he impressed me as a man of compassion who truly loved UAM and all that it stands for," said UAM Chancellor Karla Hughes. "He always viewed himself, first and foremost, as a teacher, but his leadership has had a lasting impact on this university. I think I speak for the entire UAM community when I say how saddened I am by his passing. Our deepest condolences to his family and the many who called him their friend."
Born February 6, 1924, Claude Babin grew up 30 miles north of Baton Rouge, La., in the little town of Clinton. He graduated from high school in 1941 and entered Louisiana State University at the age of 17. Dr. Babin earned a degree in history from LSU in 1945 after twice being rejected for military service for poor eyesight.
He received a master's degree from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and a doctorate from Tulane University before accepting a teaching position at Arkansas A&M in 1954. He never left, although his initial appointment was for one year. "I had a family to support and I needed some assurance that I would have a job for more than a year," Dr. Babin said. "If not, I would have to start looking." A&M President Horace Thompson assured Dr. Babin that his job was safe and told him he would be re-appointed, beginning a 38-year tenure as a teacher and administrator.
Dr. Babin stepped down as chancellor on January 1, 1977, to return to the classroom. He remained a member of the faculty until his retirement in 1992. In 1998, the UAM Business and Communications Building was renamed the Babin Business Center in his honor.
Dr. Babin's legacy will extend beyond his time at UAM, thanks to the creation of the endowed Barbara Murphy Babin Scholarship in honor of his late wife, who died December 6, 2006. "Barbara and I always treasured the time we spent on that campus," Dr. Babin told UAM Magazine. "I have so many fond memories of those days. Arkansas A&M and UAM will always be a part of my life."
Dr. Babin is survived by his son, Claude Hunter Babin, Jr., his wife, Joyce Babin, a granddaughter, Catherine Babin, all of Little Rock, and a brother, Harold B. Babin of Zachary, La. A funeral service will be held on Thursday, March 2 at 11 a.m. at First United Methodist Church in Monticello. Burial will follow at the Oakland Cemetery. Visitation will be from 6-8 p.m. March 1 at Stephenson-Dearman Funeral Home. Memorials may be made to the Dr. Claude H. Babin Scholarship Fund at UAM.
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