Remembering Ol’ Bullet – Campus canine’s death sparked student uproar 50 years ago
In the spring of 1959 TROY flirted with serious student “unrest” over the killing of a beloved member of its community.
For some three years, he who died had been free-loading on campus — sleeping around, eating handouts, sitting in on classes. He weighed about 30 pounds, had four legs and walked in slow motion. Out of gentle mockery of his lazy ways they called this canine scholar “Bullet.”
A night watchman shot Bullet or some recall Bullet had been hit by a car and his misery needed ending. Others say he was terminally diseased. Then, there is the theory that administration had so many complaints about Bullet’s lack of appropriate bathroom habits in the women’s dorm area that one, or all, of the above given reasons sealed his fate. But, for sure, two blasts from a shotgun ultimately took him out.
Many students were mad and getting madder. After all, when greeted on an early spring morning as he strolled across the quad, Bullet always reciprocated with a spry lift of his tale. He enjoyed being part of the TROY family and wanted folks to know it.
Worried about escalating unhappiness over the “assassination” of such a magnetic figure, then-President Charles Bunyan Smith asked his director of public relations, Renwick C. Kennedy, to come up with some way to ease the situation.
An associate Reformed Presbyterian minister trained at Erskine College and Princeton, Kennedy was revered among TROY students not so much for his PR and student-recruiting work but for his part-time teaching of English literature and composition.
Most students did not know, however, that Kennedy overtly loved dogs and just about any other creature.
Outdoor Life sold a lot of magazines when Kennedy published an article criticizing those who hunt, then do not eat what they kill. Granted, Kennedy had hunted as a child in South Carolina, but he always advocated what his quail-hunting grandparents taught. Don’t kill what you won’t eat.
Kennedy’s opposition to unnecessary killing prompted TIME magazine’s coverage of his internationally publicized critique of certain American GIs who killed deer and farm animals – not to eat but for sport – as they took breaks from battle in World War II.
With orders to calm the waters over Bullet’s death, what did he do? Kennedy could be a practical man. Bullet was dead. This could not be reversed. So he had a funeral – a big funeral. If done right, which it was, this could show appropriate respect for the loss of a vital life and simultaneously ease tensions as students took the lead in the funeral ceremony and felt that they had been “heard.” A civilized approach to a stressful situation.
At mid-morning on a Wednesday, a group of 50 students assembled in front of the old quadrangle. There awaited the casket, covered in a floral bone. Billy Long, a senior football player turned serious literature and drama student, preached a funeral sermon crafted by classmates Roland and Raymond Tew. Long was followed by cathartic testimonials on behalf of the humanity of Bullet. Then into a grave in the center of the quad went the casket. A sense of “the correct thing has been done” floated across the campus.
Several days later, Kennedy’s obituary on Bullet appeared in the Alabama Journal. It likely tells what Kennedy would have wanted us to remember about the whole affair.
“To a certain extent,” Kennedy wrote, Bullet was “a mongrel…..sad eyes, long floppy ears, and somewhere in his ancestry there had been a bird dog.” But he did not hide his own feelings. His angst over Bullet merged with his noted wry, sensitive humor. “Executed ” and “exterminated,” Bullet now heads for “that happy land where rabbits have no legs and garbage cans are filled with T-bone steaks.”
Dr. Kennedy retired from TROY in 1973 and died 11 years later.
Tennant McWilliams is professor of history and dean emeritus at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. He is writing a biography of Renwick C. Kennedy and would be most grateful for contact with people who have recollections of him. His email is firstname.lastname@example.org.