Harry F. Estill stopped by Sam Houston State University for a visit, but this is not a ghost story.

Harry F. Estill III toured Austin Hall, the Peabody Library, and the Estill Classroom Building. He talked some about Sam Houston's fifth president--his grandfather, Harry Fishburne Estill--who died when Estill III was barely old enough to have any memories of him at all.

Estill III, 63, is now retired and lives in St. Louis. His father, Harry F. Estill, Jr., moved to St. Louis and started his family there, and Estill III has had little connection with Sam Houston State and only rare visits to Huntsville.

He remembers returning to Huntsville at Christmas, a year or two before his grandfather died. By that time his grandfather had given up the college presidency, which he held from 1908 to 1937--the longest tenure of any of the institution's 11 chief executives. He was president emeritus and a professor of history when he died in 1942.

"He was the head of the family," said Estill III. "At the Christmas dinner table he would say the grace. He had a rather distinguished way of talking, and was very much like the portrait in Peabody Library."

Estill III speaks softly, not the kind of voice likely used by his grandfather in his daily, mandatory, Old Main "chapel talks." During his tour of Austin Hall, Estill III sat in the president's chair and touched the lectern that his grandfather would have used in those assemblies.

Sam Houston President Bobby K. Marks told Estill III and his cousin, Ellen Joy Finnegan, who lives in Huntsville, how the university acquired the pieces of Old Main china displayed in Austin Hall, and they took souvenir pictures of the Harry F. Estill bust and portrait in another room.

Estill III has his grandfather's strong chin, but not the mustache. Neither has he chosen to continue the name. He has two sons, Craig and Matthew, and a grandson, Charles.

"I'd sort of suffered along in life being the 'third'," he said. "It didn't make a whole lot of sense to inflict a 'fourth' on another child."

Estill III attended Princeton and the Harvard Business School, and worked for 35 years for Pet Incorporated, makers of condensed milk and other food products.

He and his cousin seemed pleased with the renovation under way in the Estill Classroom Building, which was the Estill Library until a larger library was completed in 1968. The renovation is scheduled to be completed and admissions, financial aid, the cashier's office and the history department to move back in before the fall semester begins.

They were both complimentary of Sam Houston's more recent achievements, such as the doctorates in criminal justice and education and the business administration accreditation.

"The university seems to have kept its feet on the ground, preparing people to do important things in the future," said Estill III.

No name has been more important in providing the foundation for Sam Houston's modern success than Estill.

Charles P. Estill taught Latin and English literature at Sam Houston Normal Institute until his death in 1882. His son, the first Harry F., was a member of the institute's first graduating class and was on the faculty for 26 years before beginning his 29-year term as president.

During those years the institution's curriculum was expanded to four years, its name was changed to Sam Houston State Teachers College (1923), it became a member of accrediting agencies, graduate programs were offered for the first time, and the first dormitory for women was built.

A later dormitory, Estill, is named after Loulie Sexton Estill, the former president's wife. One of his daughters taught English at Sam Houston and wrote a book, "Vision Realized," on the institution's history.

"Perhaps his (her father's) greatest contribution to the institution was as a scholar who was also a Christian gentleman," wrote Mary S. Estill, who died in 1982.

Estill III, like his grandfather was, is an elder in the Presbyterian Church.

"Our grandfather was an inspiration to us by his example," he said. Over the years he has talked to many who say they were inspired and helped by his grandfather.

"So many people felt so close to him."


Media Contact: Frank Krystyniak

May 15, 1997