(Arkansas & New College 1971) (1 April 1949 - November 2019)
At a picnic one spring day in 1977, John Churchill told a Yale faculty member that he had gotten a job at Hendrix College and was moving back to Arkansas, where his infant son would grow up without an accent. “The joke blew right past him, clear and clean,” Churchill later told a crowd at Hendrix.
By 1977, Churchill had been a Rhodes Scholar, earning bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the University of Oxford and was finishing up his dissertation for a Ph.D. from Yale University. He spent the next 24 years at Hendrix, where he twice served as interim president, and his pickled okra won a blue ribbon at the Faulkner County Fair. Then for 15 years he was the chief executive officer of Phi Beta Kappa, the nation’s oldest academic honor society, in Washington, D.C.
Churchill, 70, died peacefully in his sleep at a hospital in Nashville, 42 miles east of his home in Dickson, where he moved after retiring in 2016. He had been battling a septic infection, according to the family.
Born April 1, 1949, John Hugh Churchill spent the first few years of his life in Hector, where his father, Olen R. Churchill, was superintendent of schools.
The family moved to Little Rock, where John Churchill took an interest in the girl next door, Jean Hill. They began dating at the age of 16, later married, had three kids and remained together the rest of his life.
Some of their fondest memories were living in a cottage in Kirtlington, about 12 miles north of Oxford, while John was studying in England.
Years later, John Churchill would occasionally torment his children with exotic dishes like pickled herring.
Churchill graduated from Little Rock’s Hall High School before attending Southwestern (now Rhodes College) at Memphis, where he was captain of the football team, conference champion at throwing the discus, and a member of Phi Beta Kappa.
For 17 of those 24 years at Hendrix, Churchill served as vice president for academic affairs and dean of the college. He had also been dean of students at Hendrix and taught philosophy throughout his time there.
Ann Die Hasselmo, who was president of Hendrix for nine years, said Churchill was “a prince of a man,” brilliant, ethical and humane.
“There aren’t many people about whom I can say this, there is nothing laudatory or flattering that you can say about John Churchill that would not be true,” Hasselmo said. “He was a remarkable, an amazing human being. Those of us who knew John and Jean mourn with the family and count ourselves fortunate to have walked a bit down the path with him.”