On the afternoon of the day her father died, Paige Ellison sat at her computer and sent an email to the University of Mobile. She addressed it to two men she had never met at a university whose campus she had never visited.
This is what she wrote on Dec. 22, 2013 to Bill Hart, associate vice president for development, and Dr. Roger Breland, vice president for project development:
Dr. Breland and Mr. Hart,
My father passed away very early this morning. My family and I would like to establish a Thomas ‘Ted’ Talley voice performance endowed scholarship, based on need, at the University of Mobile. Would this be possible in time for memorial gifts to be directed to the scholarship in lieu of flowers?
My father sang gospel music with various quartets and other groups throughout his life in Alabama until he became too sick the past two years. The University of Mobile Center for Performing Arts’ performances were great gifts of enjoyment to him when he relocated to this area.
This is the finest way that we feel we can honor what hemost cherished doing while he was with us here.
A few months later, on her father’s birthday of March 27, she joined UMobile President Mark Foley on stage at the 9th annual Leadership Banquet. The event raises funds that allow the university to provide scholarships. Hart had invited Talley’s family and friends to attend the banquet that featured musical performances by the Voices of Mobile and an address by retired Col. Oliver North.
As the audience looked on, she and Foley signed the agreement to officially establish the Thomas “Ted” Talley Voice Performance Scholarship. With gifts from family, friends and those whose lives have been touched in some way by a shared love of music, the endowed fund will provide scholarships in perpetuity for full-time students with financial need who are studying voice performance.
“Oliver North caught me as I came off the stage and said, ‘What a wonderful tribute to your daddy’s life,’” Paige recalled. “Daddy would have loved that.”
Paige said she and her siblings, Amy Williams and Keith Talley, grew up in a north Alabama home filled with love and music. Ted Talley was one of 11 children, and Paige recalls family gatherings at a house on the river, surrounded by aunts, uncles, cousins – and music.
“Music was so central to those times. Everybody loved gospel music. They would get together and play music and sing. It was at the core, the center, of his life – all his life,” Paige said.
He sang in the chorus at Oxford High School and was among chorus veterans who formed the Keytone Quartet. Later, he sang with the Kingston Quartet, the Gospelairs and the Travellers. They cut albums and sang at churches and gospel singing events across the state.
Singing wasn’t his livelihood – it was his love. He worked in the grocery business for over 40 years before transitioning to chemical sales. In his spare time he enjoyed golf, reading, and watching and attending sports events.
When he became ill, Talley moved to Spanish Fort, AL to be closer to Paige and Amy. Amy often took him to Dauphin Way Baptist Church in Mobile where many of the university’s major musical performances are held, such as Christmas Spectacular and the Mobile Passion Play.
“He was over the top amazed by the young people, not just that they had that amount of talent, but that they had that avenue to work on their talent. He was just blown away by the caliber of what was done at the University of Mobile,” Paige said.
When their father died at the age of 76, Paige said she and her siblings were overwhelmed by the stories they heard of how he stepped in to be there for somebody when times were tough.
“There are so many sides of our parents that we know nothing about,” Paige said. “I was so struck by how many people his life had touched. He made people feel good, I think because he was so positive. He was very loved.”
Establishing the endowed voice performance scholarship provided an opportunity for family and friends to contribute to something permanent that would acknowledge Talley’s lifetime of loving music.
Paige said she came to know more about the University of Mobile through her father’s insistence that she accompany him to a music performance. That connection grew stronger as a result of the Leadership Banquet, when she met Charlie Brown ’79 and ’14 who had just completed a Master of Arts in Marriage and Family Counseling after a career change. Brown encouraged her to take some classes at the University of Mobile and work toward licensing to go along with a master’s degree she had previously earned in counseling.
So this summer she took a couple of courses with Dr. Tom Bevill, professor of marriage and family counseling and Christian studies, and Dr. Buddy Landry, assistant professor of marriage and family counseling. As she is enrolled in a third class this fall, the professors are helping guide her through the state licensing process.
Paige said her only regret is in not having the opportunity to tell her father about the scholarship.
“I hope in some divine way he’s fully aware. I hope he knows he’s getting to support, at least in a small way, the young people getting to study music,” she said.