Gray-haired man with glasses at a desk with pencil and paper

Walbert Dopelson

Walbert Dopelson was born on September 8, 1972, to Drs. Alan and Elizabeth Dopelson, faculty members at the University of Mississippi.

The two doctors met at an inter-departmental cocktail party when they were teamed together—he representing the History Department and she Philosophy—for a game of charades. According to faculty lounge gossip, the title on the slip of paper to be acted out was "Ode on a Grecian Urn," and Dr. Elizabeth Dopelson still colors at any mention of Keats.

After their successful pairing for charades, they began to date. One thing led to another, and two months later, Alan and Elizabeth were married. Seven months later, Walbert was born.

The professors were loving parents who spent their ample free time doting on Walbert. His privileged childhood included trips to hear symphony orchestras around the Southeast, birthday parties at museums in Jackson and Memphis, and summers in Italy.

In addition to doing extremely well at school, Walbert was a popular athlete who repeatedly brought his track team to the state finals.

After receiving his master's degree in Library Science, Walbert was hired as Circulation Manager at the University of Mississippi library. Five years later, he became the Director of the Yoknapatawpha County Library, a position he still holds.

For the last eight years, Walbert has also been the Director of the Yoknapatawpha County Literature Festival and is credited with keeping the festival operating in the black during financially uncertain times. He added activities for children to make the festival more family-friendly and partnered with local companies to generate advertising dollars.

When not running the library or organizing the annual festival, Walbert sculpts marble busts of local celebrities, donating the profits from all sales to the library and other local non-profits. The C'est Belle Gallery even hosted a show of Walbert's sculpture one summer, using the collection to narrate a contemporary history of the region.

In a story the local newspaper's Sunday magazine section did on Walbert about fifteen years ago, he discussed the rock hammers, small picks, and chisels of various diameters he used in his work. He also explained how he chose such an unusual hobby. "When one is cooped up all day dealing with administrative tasks, it helps to be able to crack open a skull or two at quitting time, at least figuratively."

According to several sources, the agreement between Lamar Cosmetics and the Yoknapatawpha County Literature Festival included a sculpture by Walbert of the pageant winner, the sponsor's name appearing prominently on the brass base. The resulting bust would stay in Oxford for six months before being sent on tour to high schools across the country.

Though one ex-employee labeled him cold and calculating, Walbert's staff at the library describes him as calm and even-tempered. His secretary, Paige Johnson, said one of his tricks is to carry a small rock hammer in his pocket as a reminder of happier moments when a meeting is going bad or budget cuts are announced.

Walbert's personal life is no open book. The rumor was he dated Lucille Ruffin-Moore for a short period after her husband's death, but no other romantic links have ever been established.

The only possible stain on his impeccable background is the ten months ending August 2008. One day, he left a message for his secretary saying he would be out for a while but not to worry, to sign whatever was necessary to keep things functioning smoothly until he returned.

When Walbert finally did reappear ten months later, he would say nothing about where he'd been or what he'd done except, "Blame it on Nabokov." The details of how he spent the time have never been revealed.

Most regard Walbert as a community leader and asset. Several people said it was a shame he was the artist responsible for immortalizing the pride of Oxford because he was too humble to include himself. As one person commented, "Walbert's head would raise a fair amount at auction."

 

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