In 1974, Chancellor Jack Hawkins Jr. laid his eyes on a young woman who created an impression on him instantly. “She is strikingly beautiful,” he thought.
Thirty-seven years of marriage, two children and two grandchildren later — the imprint his wife, Janice Hawkins, made remains the same. “She is still beautiful,” Hawkins said.
It seemed almost a matter of fate that Hawkins, a native of Mobile, met his wife, a native of New York. According to Hawkins, his wife first came down to the South to attend college at David Lipscomb University in Nashville, which all her siblings also attended.
Though later she moved back to New York, her brother, who was then working in Atlanta, encouraged her to come to the South again. She complied and eventually met the dean of the school of optometry at University of Alabama at Birmingham, who recruited her to work there.
Jack Hawkins also worked at UAB, and it was there at a school of optometry clinic that Hawkins first saw Janice. Hawkins was giving a tour to a photographer one day. When they reached the clinic, Hawkins remembers the photographer saying that he had to see this one young lady.
“And I said why?” Hawkins recalled. “And he said, ‘She is the most beautiful woman I’ve ever seen.’ ” He could not refute that point when he saw her himself.
It took me about six months after that to get her to talk with me, but after that I was pretty persistent,” he said. The two were married three years later in 1977.
“She was always very, very insightful and challenging,” he said. “I think that’s what I found of interest in her.
“She was challenging. It was a challenge just to get her to talk to me — and she has tolerated me all these years.”
It is Janice Hawkins’ intelligence, compassion and dedication towards her family and community that Hawkins said he loves about her. “She is a very spiritual, thoughtful person,” he said. “She is a very smart person, she is a loving person. She is the best gourmet cook that I have ever known.”
Hawkins said that although she can be tough at times, her robustness makes her independent and being tough influenced their two daughters to grow up as strong individuals.
Hawkins said that his family is extremely close and he regards having children as the icing on the cake that is marriage. “Well, as you go through life you realize that there are many things much more important than yourself and when you are blessed to have a family, especially when children come, I can think of no greater blessing nor a greater responsibility, and it’s through that sharing that real happiness occurs,” he said.
Regardless of religious foundations, Hawkins said that he believes the spiritual life of a family is essential in weaving the lives of two people into one. “There needs to be a firm understanding,” he said. “That doesn’t mean you have to have the same beliefs. I think you have to recognize life together requires compromise, and you have to want your partner to be happy.”
“I need to place her happiness above my happiness, and I guess there is an old saying that ‘If Mama’s not happy, nobody is happy.’ I guess that’s true. It takes compromise. It takes understanding and in the essence of love, sacrifice.”
But Hawkins does not see his wife just as his life partner; he sees her as an essential component of the college community, who works behind the scenes to help improve Troy. He credits the visual beauty of Troy’s campus to her focus on the uniformity of the appearance of this university. He said that it was her vision and high expectations to make Troy’s campus look just as good as any other top institution in the state.
“There was a cute story from years ago, shortly after we came,” he said. “She actually was in the flower bed out in the corner of George Wallace Drive and University Avenue with the maintenance men who were taking care of the landscape.
“And I had a call from a little lady in the community, and she said ‘Dr. Hawkins, did you know that your wife is working with the maintenance men out in the flower beds, in the corner?’ I said ‘No ma’am, but that’s great.’ She never called me again.”
Hawkins said that her contributions to teaching etiquette classes and creating a university cookbook are some other inputs he highly values. Additionally, her insight and wise counsel have also been significant in helping Hawkins perform his duties as the head of the university, even in becoming the chancellor.
“To begin with, it was her interest in the blind that influenced my interest in the blind,” he said. Hawkins served as the president of the Alabama Institute for Deaf and Blind, and it was during his tenure there that he met the Board of Trustees of Troy, who later asked him to come here.
Despite being the chancellor, Hawkins said that his wife probably thinks he is the most naïve man she knows. He said that while he willingly trusts people, his wife is more cautious and she can see things that he easily does not; together, they are able to discern the facts of the matter.
“And I think we’ve certainly been stronger as a team as opposed to me trying to do this in isolation,” he said. “So she has been a great partner.”
Hawkins said that when he served alongside the Korean Marines in Vietnam, they often talked to him about how Americans get married too early. He said that this made a lot of sense to him, and he thinks that as Americans, it is something the youths must ponder before saying, “I do.”
“Wait, because you need to be mature emotionally,” he said. “You need to be fairly independent, and you need to have a strong financial base. Many people in America, they marry young and they marry for love, which is the right reason, but marriage is a complex institution.” Hawkins was 32 when he got married.
“Too many young people today think that if I don’t get married immediately after college, I many not get married, which is not true at all,” he said. “Life is a long time. I think patience is a virtue and patience will contribute to a successful marriage.”
Hawkins said that although he thinks of himself as a romantic, his wife probably does not think so. “She’d say I could be more so,” he said. “I may not be a romantic in expression, but I am at heart.”
The romantic-at-heart chancellor will not be able to spend Valentine’s Day with his wife, as she is currently in Japan with their elder daughter and her family. Nonetheless, he is sending a gesture of love to her.
“I just mailed my Valentine’s card this morning,” he said. “I hope the mail flies on time. I couldn’t be there to take her to dinner, so I sent her a check so that she can take my son-in-law and daughter to dinner.”