am not exactly known for my athletic prowess. I have never excelled as a
participant in any sport, although I am quite proficient as a spectator. Growing
up in Aggieland, I regularly went to A&M football games with my father back
in the days before Johnny Manziel made the team respectable and when Kyle Field
only held an intimate 40,000 or so. I took the path of least resistance in PE
throughout my school career, but I improbably ended up on three straight
champion intramural soccer teams in high school (despite being more of an
impediment on the field than an active player). I was a member of the Middle
Common Room cricket team when in grad school at Oxford, as just about anyone
can stand around on a lawn in white clothing between tea breaks. When Marjorie
and I arrived at the University of Kansas I didn’t know the first thing about
basketball, but you have to be a fast learner in that environment (and living
in Dr. Naismith’s house for a decade didn’t hurt either). Our season tickets in
Allen Fieldhouse were somewhere up beyond the nosebleed section: after a game I
always felt like I was suffering from altitude sickness, not to mention
temporary deafness. Lately I have contented myself with watching sports mainly
from the sofa, especially my beloved and benighted Baltimore Orioles, who I
defiantly adopted in the late 1960s in opposition to my father’s cherished (and
despicable) New York Yankees.
only sport in which I can claim even the most rudimentary expertise is bowling.
Now I know what you’re thinking: first, that bowling is not a sport and,
second, that little in the way of expertise is needed beyond perhaps funny
shoes, a shirt with a groaner of a team name (e.g. The King Pins) stitched on
the back, and a pot belly. Be that as it may, I love bowling and have been
indulging regularly for a very long time. I started in sixth grade, when all
the students at St. Michael’s Academy were bused across town to bowl for a
couple hours every Wednesday afternoon, presumably to give our teachers (and
the school’s physical plant) a much-deserved rest. I was not exactly enamored
of bowling at the start, but I did well enough that at the end of the year I
was presented with the “Upper School Bowling Award” at graduation. I am the
first to admit this was not the Heisman Trophy or an Olympic medal, but I was
darned proud of it and, modest though it was, it ended up being the only
sporting recognition I would ever earn in my life.
athletic ambition stoked by this external recognition, I started pestering my
father to go bowling with me on weekends. My father did not drive — which, more
so than being Japanese, regularly wearing Bermuda shorts, and not owning any
firearms, make him quite an outlier in Bryan, Texas — so every Saturday we
would get out our bikes and ride over to Triangle Bowl. After cheeseburgers, fries, and large Big
Reds (the diet of champions in bowling circles), we would intensely and very competitively
roll a few games. My father usually won, which irritated me considerably, but
we always enjoyed the time together and the good-natured rivalry made us both
more proficient bowlers.
a good many years after my father passed away, through college, graduate school,
and beyond, I did not set foot in a bowling alley. Then, in about 2000, I was
traveling with a group of KU undergraduates in China and was persuaded, against
my better judgment, to go bowling in Wuhan late one night. I was immediately
hooked again. As soon as I got back to Lawrence I started going to Royal Crest
Lanes, first once a week or so, then twice, and ultimately as often as I could
fit it into my schedule. I bought my own shoes, then a ball, then a better
ball, and was soon decked out like a pro, with a tricked-out roller bag, flashy
bowling shoes with flames up the sides, and lucky towels. When Marjorie and I
left Kansas, I think I was as sad to say goodbye to Royal Crest (and my friends
Mary and Jerry behind the desk) as I was bidding my university colleagues
coming to Dallas, the frequency of my bowling has tailed off considerably. I
have little in the way of free time and it’s quite a drive to the nearest
alleys. I should confess that I am quite picky about where I bowl. I am no fan
of the fancy-schmancy new bowling centers popping up these days, especially in trendy
places like Dallas, with martini bars and mood lighting and plush sofas and
wall-to-wall hipsters and exorbitant prices. As I like to tell people, I like a
bowling alley that smells of feet, a good old-fashioned place with families and
ugly carpeting and a welcoming feel and (of course) Big Red on tap. Think The Big Lebowski. So these days I have
to drive all the way to Garland (no biking that far) to a big warehouse of
place with no official name that I know of, but with the letters B-O-W-L
glowing starkly on the side facing the expressway.
understand that the bowling alley in Conway is the kind of place I will like. I
hope I can squeeze enough time into my schedule to pick up a few games now and
then. If there is a student bowling club, please consider me for faculty
advisor. And if there are professors and
staff members who enjoy the sport, by all means let’s head down to the
One of the most rewarding parts of my current job (and something I very much
look forward to doing more of at Hendrix) is meeting alums and hearing their stories
of what made college so special for each of them. I am complete sucker for all the
nostalgic memories of professors who made a huge difference, friends made for a
lifetime, momentous career decisions cemented in the weeks before graduation, and
fun times had in the days before homecoming. Some of my very favorite stories, however,
come from couples who met in college and went on to spend decades together. Since
Marjorie and I first met in graduate school, at a drinks party where we were the
only two folks not partaking of the spiked punch, I might have a particularly soft
spot for tales of college romance.
Not long ago, two SMU grads (now close to my advanced age) shared with me the
story of their first encounter. It was set in Hyer Hall, a historical building at
the heart of campus and once the site of physics labs (before, it seems, we needed
billion-dollar machines tunneled into European mountains to discover things of great
import). Hyer is lovely from the outside but a little less charming, shall we say,
in its interior decor. After one faculty member once complained of its general drabness,
I replied (with my tongue firmly in cheek), “Come on, now, it got a new coat of
gray paint just ten years ago!” One would never guess that Cupid would be roaming
the hallways of a building so lacking in ambiance. But for this couple I spoke with,
Hyer Hall was an absolutely magical place: they started chatting after class one
evening in front of a vending machine in the basement and, within six months, had
tied the knot. The husband, who seemed like a true romantic, confided that he later
tried to buy said soda machine but that cold-hearted bureaucrats, either at the
university or at Coca-Cola, vetoed the idea. These days, when I walk by Hyer, I
almost always smile and think about how love can bloom in the most unlikely places
and how college can be filled with unexpected, transformative, perfectly wonderful
Over the past few months I have had the opportunity to meet dozens of Hendrix
alums. To a person, they have been warm, approachable, interesting, and accomplished
people, with an abiding affection for the College and a profound attachment to its
character, values, and commitment to excellence. Nancy and Tom Fomby are just the
kind of folks all of us in the Hendrix family can be proud of. Tom is my colleague
here at SMU, Director of the Richard B. Johnson Center for Economic Studies and
a distinguished econometrician. He knows as much about “big data” and analytics
(among the hottest topics in the academy and the business world right now) as I
know about Godzilla. And Nancy worked for 31 years at the Episcopal School of Dallas
where, as lead college guidance counselor, she advised generations of nervous students
and confused parents (and steered quite a few recruits to Conway). Nancy and Tom
can talk about their days at Hendrix as if they were last week: Tom recalls the
math professor who changed his life and, even more importantly, the evening he looked
down some bleachers and saw his future wife for the first time. The Fombys have
been generous supporters of the College and still drive through campus every time
they come back to Arkansas to visit relatives.
I am certain there are loads more Toms and Nancys out there, with great stories
to tell, memories to reflect upon, and dreams for the future of Hendrix to express.
I look forward to meeting as many of you as I can, and hearing all that you would
like to share with me, in the months and years ahead.
some folks at Hendrix already know, one of my passions is barbecue. I have been
eating smoked meat for just about as long as I can remember. My family moved to
Bryan, Texas, in 1969 and I would guess that about half the restaurants in town
(which probably totaled ten or fewer at that time) were barbecue joints. We lived
not too far from Tom’s BBQ, which is long gone but still fondly remembered in the
Brazos Valley. Tom’s back then was located in a shabby cinder-block bunker of a
building, with no windows and (in my mind’s eye at least) covered in faded maroon
paint, just across the road from the Texas A&M campus. Tom’s was famous for
the Aggie Special, a mound of smoked beef and sausage, a stack of Mrs. Baird’s white
bread, pickle slices, a whole onion, and a slab of very yellow cheese, all served
up on big sheets of butcher paper, with worn, wooden-handled steak knives the only
utensils provided. This less than elegant presentation (common in the German meat-market-style
barbecue tradition of Central Texas) did not go over well with my mother, who forbade
family meals at Tom’s. As she was a biochemist (and thus, regrettably, had some
credibility when it came to hygiene) my father and I had little choice in the matter.
The only barbecue place in town where we ate regularly was Randy Sims, which
was the closest restaurant to our house, at least until a Taco Bell sprouted on
Texas Avenue. Randy Sims was acceptable to my mother — I recall the dining room
being antiseptically clean and the cafeteria trays sparkling, all terribly out of
character for a BBQ establishment — and the brisket there came to set my standard
for smoked meat. Randy Sims very proudly used the legendary Red Bryan’s original
recipes; only later did I learn that Randy (who is very much a real person and played
for Bear Bryant at A&M in the day) had married Red’s daughter. Red’s son (named
Sonny, appropriately enough) went on to create a small barbecue empire in Dallas.
Randy Sims’ place has now been closed for years, perhaps decades, but I can still
imagine the smoky, tender, memory-enhanced goodness of his meat when I order a beef
sandwich at the now rather corporate, mass-produced Sonny Bryan’s.
I have spent most of my adult life trying to recapture that imagined perfection
of Randy Sims’ brisket, piled high on slices of Texas toast griddled with margarine.
Looking for good barbecue in Boston was like searching for fresh-off-the boat lobsters
in Bryan. England was hopeless for smoked meat as, not surprisingly, was New Jersey.
When Marjorie and I moved to Kansas in 1993, however, I felt like salvation was
at hand. I soon discovered that KC ’cue, despite the hype and the undeniable charm
of venerable, scruffy joints like Arthur Bryant’s, was a profound disappointment
to my Texan taste buds. Kansas City BBQ ran heavily to pork ribs, the brisket was
usually dry and sliced wafer thin, and the sauce was a sticky, sugary, candy-like
abomination. For seventeen years marooned in the heartland, dreaming of the barbecue
of my youth, I felt like a shipwrecked sailor on a desert island: Water, water everywhere,
but not a drop to drink.
Ten years ago, Marjorie took pity on my plight and for my fortieth birthday bought
me a way out of my barbecue frustration: a gigantic smoker from Houston, gleaming
stainless steel with an offset firebox and all the bells and whistles, made by the
same outfit that supplied George H.W. Bush. The first day I tried to use it I cut
open my finger on one of its heavy-metal grates and spent three hours in the emergency
room getting stitched up. Over the subsequent months and years I came to realize
how hard it was to make great barbecue and how much experience, patience, and sweat-equity
was required to turn beef, salt, pepper, and smoke into mouthwatering goodness.
For Christmas this year, Marjorie got me a book on Southern — not Texas — barbecue.
I think she was hoping to ease me into the different foodways of Arkansas easily,
as I am sure she still remembers my impassioned rants against what was represented
as smoked meat in Kansas City. The volume, a mixture of travelogue and cookbook,
did catch my fancy and, after reading for days about pulled and chopped pork, barbecued
bologna, and all the varieties of sauce and slaw from the Mississippi Delta to the
Carolinas, I decided I needed to roll my smoker out of the garage and give Southern
BBQ a try. Of course, the early January day I picked to do my barbequing happened
to be 35 degrees, with a steady wind out of the north dropping the wind chill well
below freezing. But I am not one to let a little weather stand between me and a
pork shoulder, so I bundled up and smoked away.
I am looking forward to exploring Arkansas barbecue when I arrive at Hendrix
and I would welcome recommendations of your favorite spots and tips on little-known
gems around the state. And I expect I will be firing up my smoker next summer in
Conway when I get a hankering for that lovely Texas-style beef I’m so addicted to.
You’ll know I’m at work when you see the clouds of smoke drifting across campus
and smell a hint of brisket on the wind.
I had a great couple days on the Hendrix campus last week. There were plenty
of the usual meetings in conference rooms, the kind of things that academic administrators
know only too well as an unavoidable part of the job. But I also had a lot of fun
learning more about the Hendrix community and meeting many of the folks who work,
teach, learn, and live at the College. There was the public safety officer, who
told me about his military tours of duty in Grenada and Kuwait, as well as his continued
amazement at the things 18‑year‑olds can get up to on weekend evenings. And the
sports coach who introduced himself at the WAC and joined me in a few laps around
the indoor track, talking proudly about the wonderful teams of young people he had
recruited to Hendrix. And, of course, all the students: the classmates cramming
for a Native American history course over breakfast; the sociology and biochemistry
and religious studies majors from Maine and Louisiana, Nashville and Ghana; the
seniors headed to med school, Americorps, and a stint as a bartender; the group
struggling to remember the Mandarin word for "taste" at 11:30 at night. All impressed
me with their passion for their work and their studies, their clear affection for
Hendrix College, and their patience in putting up with my endless questions. I even
had the chance to meet Elvis: who knew he would be waiting outside Provost Entzminger’s
I enjoyed four meals on Thursday in the Caf, if you count that slice of pizza
at Late Night as a meal. I think I put on my full "freshman fifteen" in one day.
Grits and biscuits for breakfast, delicious BBQ brisket for lunch (thanks to Chef
for smoking this up with me in mind!), and a corn dog for dinner. Pure heaven. You
can take the boy out of Texas, but you can’t take Texas out of the boy. I hate to
imagine what will happen to my waistline when my office is just a stone’s throw
from the SLTC.
I will be back on campus once or twice a month in the spring and I look forward
to making more new friends, hearing more amazing stories about Odyssey projects
and study abroad trips, and perhaps indulging in another corn dog or two.
When confronted for the first time with my last name, the world seems to divide
into three clear groups. Most numerous are those who gamely give it a go: Soo-soo,
Tut-soo, and Chew-chew are pretty common attempts, although sometimes I hear more
creative pronunciations. A significant minority of folks just won't even touch
it: some form their lips, struggling to get their minds around that jumble of letters,
but no sounds come out; many just default to calling me Bill or something curious
like Mr. William; a few shake their heads and say "I'm not even going to try that
one." And then, of course, there are those with a natural advantage, all of the
world's native speakers of Japanese, who don't miss a beat in rendering a flawless
Tsutsui every time.
I have to admit that I do not pronounce my own name in accordance with the best
practices of Japanese diction. All my life, I have followed the lead of my mother,
who was born and raised in upstate New York of honest, hardworking (but very un-Japanese)
German and British stock. She made things easy for tongue-tied Americans by ignoring
the initial T in our name and grouping the subsequent letters in a way that made
sense to English (if not Japanese) speakers. Thus, she and I go by SUIT-sooey.
Think of a suit of clothing followed by a call for the hogs. Perhaps not the most
elegant mnemonic, but it's hard to forget and almost impossible to mess up. My
father, who was originally from Japan, always winced a bit at our Americanized pronunciation
but patiently put up with it as just another of the many small compromises that
immigrants are obliged to make.
So feel free to take a hack at Tsutsui when we first meet. Or you can just call
me Bill. And please forgive me if I mangle your name the first time around: I will
try to learn how to get it right, especially if you have a neat little trick like
SUIT-sooey that you can share.
Dr. William M. Tsutsui, Dean and Professor of History at Dedman College of Humanities and Sciences at Southern Methodist University, was named the 11th President of Hendrix College. His presidency begins June 2014.