There are so many interesting people who walk through the doors of every campus and institute each day. One of those was Jon Manchip White, who taught at UT Knoxville for 17 years and founded the creative writing program.
Fred Brown, an award-winning writer for The Knoxville News Sentinel who has written several stories for the Alumnus since his retirement, came to me with an idea a year ago to write about Jon. The allure to the story was the sheer variety in his life: growing up in Wales, serving with MI5 in World War II, meeting famous movie stars and writers and being their friends, studying Egyptology, writing films and novels and just having a great outlook on life. “There should be an art of living just as there is an art of writing,” he told Fred during an interview this summer.
Jon was not in good health when Fred interviewed him this summer, and Fred intended to go back and ask more questions. Unfortunately, Jon died several weeks later. Fred and I talked about whether we should go ahead with the story. We felt like it was a good story, and that it should be told more so now than ever because people needed to remember him. Jon’s daughter, Rhiannon, agreed. When Fred did the first interview, we did not send a photographer. We still needed photos for the story, so photographer Wade Payne went with Fred to visit Rhiannon. One of the best photos Wade took was of Jon’s collection of canes. Wade happened to see them and thought they looked cool but didn’t think we’d actually use it in the magazine. Laura, our designer, and I both were immediately drawn to the canes photo. We loved it. So did Rhiannon. After she got the magazine, she wrote back to us: “I absolutely love the walking stick photo—so evocative. Needless to say the article brought me to tears.” There is something almost mystical about the things people leave behind that serve as reminders. We hope this article serves as the perfect reminder of a man who knew how to live.