One of Waxahachie’s own will be honored by Prairie View A&M University for his dedication and contributions to his alma mater, his community and his country.
Tempton, the valedictorian of the Tuner High School class of 1957 and a retired colonel of the U.S. Army, will be memorialized at the dedication of the recently re-named Willie Albert Tempton Memorial Student Center on Wednesday.
“I felt humbled, very humbled and grateful,” his wife Mary Tempton, also a Turner High and Prairie View alumna, said of learning about the Texas A&M University System Board of Regent’s decision to re-name the Memorial Student Center Building. “I think he would have said that’s pretty neat. He was a man of few words, but with much impact. He would have thought it was super, but he wouldn’t have made a big deal out of it — that wasn’t his way.”
Those who knew Willie Tempton, both during his childhood in Waxahachie and throughout his life, describe him as an intelligent, unassuming man with concern for others.
“He was a person who cared deeply about other people,” Mary Tempton said. “He was a man who loved God first, his family second, people third and himself last.”
Former Turner High School teachers Martin V. and Blynthia Davis say they are proud of Willie Tempton’s achievements and are glad they shared in his life, Martin as his band director and Blynthia as his typing teacher.
“He was an exceptional young man and a good student,” Blynthia Davis said.
Martin Davis echoed similar thoughts, noting his pride at having been close to Tempton.
“We consider ourselves a part of his success,” he said. “We were good friends.”
He added with a laugh, “He was one of the only students we would let drive our car.”
Martin Davis and Willie Tempton’s father, Prince Albert Tempton, were classmates, and Martin and Blynthia saw Willie grow up from a paperboy for the Waxahachie Daily Light and talented saxophonist to a high school graduate and beyond, often attending class get-togethers.
“We have a lot of students who have done real well and advanced,” Blynthia Davis said. “Of course we’re real proud of it.”
Mary Tempton said she and Willie had known each other almost their whole lives, going to the same church and participating in many of the same activities.
“We went to elementary school, to high school and college together, and I didn’t notice him until maybe the ninth grade,” Mary Tempton said. “We courted throughout our high school years.”
After graduating from Turner High, Willie Tempton studied biology pre-medicine at Prairie View A&M, marrying his high school sweetheart, Mary, in 1958.
Edward W. Martin, now dean emeritus of the Prairie View College of Arts and Sciences and a distinguished professor of biology, was just starting out on his 55-year teaching career when Tempton entered his classroom 50 years ago for his general biology, embryology and comparative anatomy courses.
“He was always friendly and outgoing, just a real people person,” he said. “I knew him very well. In fact, he used to baby-sit for our oldest child.”
Like a true college student, Martin recalled with a laugh, Tempton found unique ways to be compensated.
“He wouldn’t charge us anything — we just had to have some food in the refrigerator,” he said.
Tempton graduated with a degree in biology in 1961, though his time in the school’s ROTC steered him toward a military career and he was commissioned as a 2nd lieutenant in the Army.
Ret. Gen. Julius Becton was an ROTC instructor during Tempton’s time at Prairie View, and said the two saw each other occasionally throughout their military careers.
“The fact that he graduated tells me he was a good student,” he said. “We were on a campaign to eliminate those who weren’t effective — those who did graduate became very successful Army officers.”
Mary Tempton completed her nursing degree, and the young family traveled together to various stations, growing to six along the way with children Willie A. Tempton Jr., E. Michelle Tempton, Gerald D. Tempton and Sharon M. Tempton-LaCour.
Willie Tempton became a helicopter pilot and then a master pilot, serving two tours of duty in Vietnam and one in Korea and served in a variety teaching and advisory roles all across the United States and Europe, earning many military honors until his retirement in 1992.
Brecton said he was president of Prairie View at the time, and that he had encouraged Tempton to return.
“(He was) a very thorough, professional soldier, a thorough administrator, a person when he told you something you could take it to the bank,” he said.
The same year of his retirement, Tempton returned to Prairie View and served in various positions in finance and administration, and in June 2002 was named interim president of the school by the Texas A&M University System board of regents, a position he held until August of the following year.
Martin, who continues to teach a course every semester and mentor students, said the two remained in touch, and even when Tempton returned to his alma mater as an administrator the two were always “Teach” and “Temp” to one another.
“He really had a real love for Prairie View A&M University … he really cared about the faculty and the students,” he said. “So many people are in a job just for the glory of it, but he really cared for the faculty and students and the development of Prairie View University.”
Carol Campbell, director of special events in the Prairie View president’s office, said she worked closely with him during his stint as interim president.
“Mr. Tempton had a special place in my heart,” she said. “I looked at him as a father.”
Campbell vividly recalls Tempton’s selflessness, recounting stories of him paying for commencement ceremonies’ staff’s lunches out of his own pocket, hand-delivering thoughtful Christmas gifts to his administrators and offering to help entering freshmen move in for the fall. Even his return to Prairie View after retiring was simply to volunteer in the finance department, Campbell said.
“He truly loved Prairie View,” she said. “He was a true Panther. We all say there will never be another Mr. Tempton, and to this day I still can’t believe he’s not with us.”
Tempton died Nov. 7, 2003, at the age of 64, shortly after Prairie View installed current President George C. Wright.
Tempton is survived by his wife and four children, seven grandchildren and one great-grandchild.
No matter where the couple’s lives took them, Mary Tempton said, they never forgot the lessons and memories of Waxahachie.
“We’ve always taken the community with us,” she said. “Our parents, the church and that community made us what we are today.”
Mary Tempton said she is thankful for the people of Waxahachie who set a good example for her and her husband, even without realizing it.
“We had a happy childhood and we were raised in an area where everybody took care of everybody else,” she said. “We felt safe and secure, and we had a fun time growing up.”
Blynthia Davis said she hopes other young people in the community can be inspired by Tempton’s life and accomplishments.
“We’d like for other kids to know they can be successful, even coming from a small town. It just takes determination,” she said.