A family discussion about substance misuse and Grammy Award-winning music will celebrate the national launch of the book Dear William by David Magee on Nov. 2 at the University of Mississippi, with an acoustic performance by Charles Kelley, of the popular country music trio Lady A.
The 7 p.m. event in the Gertrude C. Ford Center for Performing Arts will begin the Robert C. Khayat Lecture Series, hosted by the Ole Miss Women’s Council for Philanthropy. Ticket holders will receive a copy of Dear William: A Father’s Memoir of Addiction, Recovery, Love and Loss on its national release date, with a portion of book sales benefiting the William Magee Institute for Student Wellbeing at Ole Miss.
Tickets for the Nov. 2 event – sponsored by Visit Oxford, Dick and Diane Scruggs and the William Magee Center for Wellness Education – are on sale, available through the UM Box Office at the Ford Center.
After introducing his book, Magee of Oxford, will be joined on stage by family members who will share personal stories of addiction and recovery, love and loss involving substance misuse and eating disorders. Ethel Young Scurlock, interim dean of the Sally McDonnell Barksdale Honors College and senior fellow of the LuckyDay Residential College, will serve as moderator.
The Magee Institute, which includes the William Magee Center for Wellness Education, opened in 2019 to provide university students alcohol and other drug education, help with other addiction areas, support, referrals and research.
The event is suited for the convergence of music and the written word, since Dear William shares innermost human emotions, said Magee, father of William Magee, a young Ole Miss alumnus who died in 2013 of an accidental overdose. Telling his family’s story is not just about the son and brother they lost, but about the life struggles they each have battled.
“Hand-me-down pain is at the root of all our pain,” said Magee, also an Ole Miss alumnus and an accomplished author, journalist and media consultant. “Our story will speak to every individual and every family, everywhere. We were broken but have healed and want to share that journey.”
Magee first penned an Oxford Eagle newspaper piece about his son, a Sally McDonnell Barksdale Honors College student and SEC letterman in track, as Ole Miss was welcoming back students for the 2016 fall semester. That first story was read by more than 1 million people and ignited a conversation that is ongoing.
Magee and his wife, Kent, began a grassroots movement among alumni, parents, friends and students that ultimately founded the Magee Center in memory of William Magee. The state Institutions of Higher Learning board approved the university’s request to open the stand-alone William Magee Institute for Student Wellbeing; the institute is the umbrella organization over the Magee Center to address the misuse of alcohol and other drugs, as well as coming centers focusing on eating disorders and research.
The Robert C. Khayat Lecture Series is aimed at engaging thought leaders to address the university community, said Liz Johnson Randall, of Oxford, chair of the Ole Miss Women’s Council.
“The Ole Miss Women’s Council is excited to bring the uber-talented Charles Kelley of Lady A to campus to perform and proud to be a part of the national launch of ‘Dear William,’ a powerful story shared by a courageous family,” Randall said. “By offering their story as a means of helping scores of other people, David Magee and his family are transforming the way all of us view life and support our friends, neighbors and colleagues.
“The Magees are showing all of us how to navigate the most challenging of times.”
Charles Kelly, of the popular country music trio Lady A, is set to perform Nov. 2 as part of the launch event for ‘Dear William.’ Photo courtesy Alysse Gafkjen
The institute and center quickly received significant private support, enabling meaningful work to begin, Magee said.
“None of us envisioned how quickly the Magee Center would become such a major force, but we certainly should have,” he said. “Everyone knows or loves someone who is battling substance abuse, whether alcohol, drugs, both or other issues. We are grateful for the magnitude of support received – 815 gifts and commitments to date for a total of $4.2 million.
“The misuse of alcohol and other drugs is stereotypically a rite of passage for college students. Still, the truth is that the issue runs much deeper – many students have extensive experience with alcohol and other drugs before they reach college. They use substances to manage anxiety and to fit in with others, and substance misuse is often a family problem.”