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Lee & Rhoda Royce honored for 16 yrs. at Miss. College

CLINTON, Miss. (BP) — The naming of Mississippi College’s medical science building for Lee Royce is among the gestures of gratitude for his 16 years at the helm of the Baptist-affiliated college as he approaches retirement in late June.

Lettering for the Royce Medical Science Center was placed on the building May 1. For his wife, the Rhoda Royce Prayer Garden near Alumni Hall has been named in her honor.

Several hundred people honored the Royces during a farewell ceremony April 15 at First Baptist Church in Clinton, where Mississippi College is located, 11 miles west of Jackson.

Mississippi Speaker of the House Philip Gunn as well as Clinton Mayor Phil Fisher and state Sen. Hillman Frazier were among the attendees.

The ceremony was “a poignant reminder of the profound and lasting influence that Dr. and Mrs. Royce have had on the university and surrounding community,” said Jonathan Randle, an MC graduate serving as dean of the school of humanities and social sciences.

“To realize that Mississippi and civic leaders were equally as thankful as students, faculty and staff was a significant insight into the Royces’ faithful service,” Randle said. “It speaks to their leadership beyond the boundaries of the Clinton campus.”

Frazier, whose district includes Clinton, said, “MC and the state of Mississippi are better because of the hard work and dedication of Dr. Royce. He is respected by everyone whose life he has touched.”

Royce, 66, announced his retirement prior to a trustee meeting on Aug. 17 of last year, saying he appreciated the board’s “great and continuing support and encouragement to remain in service” and that leading the college had been the greatest honor of his life. But, he said, “[T]he time has come for new, younger, more energetic leadership to guide the institution towards its bicentennial in 2026” as one of America’s oldest Baptist colleges.

During his administration, MC’s enrollment has climbed from 3,200 to nearly 5,200 in 2018, including more than 300 at the college’s law school in downtown Jackson. There were just nine international students when Royce arrived in 2002; now more than 300 students from nearly 40 nations are enrolled at the college.

MC’s budget has nearly doubled, to $75.5 million; the college enjoyed a construction renaissance; the number of faculty increased by 38 percent, to 213; and a number of new academic programs were added, such as the state’s first physician assistant program in 2011. In athletics, MC moved to NCAA Division II and rejoined the Gulf South Conference in 17 sports.

What began as a $65 million Growing the Vision campaign ended up raising $87 million for scholarships, facilities, a bigger endowment and academic needs, with MC’s endowment growing from $36 million to $80.9 million. An annual spring scholarship dinner attracting nationally prominent leaders, including former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, has generated more than $3.6 million for scholarships since 2008.

In strengthening of the college’s Christ-centered mission, more than 1,100 students have made first-time professions of faith in Christ since 2002. The college is affiliated with the Mississippi Baptist Convention.

Royce, a Miami native, came to Mississippi College from seven years as president of Anderson University in South Carolina. He holds a doctorate, master’s and undergraduate degrees from Vanderbilt University.

The Royce Medical Science Center, a 22,000-square foot facility which opened in 2014, includes 4,800-square-foot anatomy/cadaver lab, histology lab, lecture halls, additional research space and faculty offices for the college’s master of medical science program that trains students for medical and dental schools or medical research. The program began with fewer than 20 students in 2005 and now enrolls more than 200 full-time students from 130-plus colleges and universities across the U.S. and Canada. It also has enrolled physicians from India for study before taking medical boards allowing them to practice in the United States.

The Rhoda Royce Prayer Garden, outside Alumni Hall and near Provine Chapel, was rededicated in her honor in March. The 35-by-35-foot garden, which opened in 2014, includes fountains, seating and sidewalks provided by an anonymous donor. Nearby is a sculpture of Jesus and His disciples by 1952 MC alumnus Samuel Gore, 90, who has taught art at the college for more than 60 years. The sculpture, Servant Savior, shows Jesus washing the feet of one of the disciples.

Rhoda Royce, a former editor with LifeWay Christian Resources, has been an adjunct instructor of business communications at MC and was involved with MC students in daily tutoring of Clinton children at a nearby apartment complex for more than a decade.

Lee Royce, in his remarks at the April 15 farewell ceremony, touched on Philippians 1:3, “I thank my God upon every remembrance of you.” He said the gathering provided “an extraordinary privilege to hear from you. We give you the thanks and God the glory.”

The Royces, married since 1975, intend to retire near their son, Mark, who is a college teacher in northern Virginia.