Whether Susan Cochran’s journey to Columbus was Faulknerian, others may ponder, now that local surgeon Butch Cochran is funding a Columbus State University William Faulkner scholarship in his late wife’s name.
Without Susan Marland Cochran, Dr. Thomas “Butch” Cochran wouldn’t be here to bear witness to her legacy. He would be in Panama City, Fla. -- perhaps not a bad place for a plastic surgeon.
Back in 1977, it was to Panama City that Butch, having sewn up his residency in plastic surgery in Salt Lake City, took Susan to settle, to be closer to home in the South.
She was from Jackson, Miss., where as a child she sometimes saw writer Eudora Welty shopping at neighborhood stores, something she’d never forget.
Never miss a local story.
Susan grew up to be a teacher. She was teaching school in Dallas when she met Butch in 1971.
“I was doing my general surgery residency and I moved in next door to her in a singles apartment in Dallas, and we just kind of got to be friends, never even really dated,” he said. “We’d just come home and you know, ‘What are you doing tonight?’ First thing you knew, we were together all the time.”
Friendship led them to Florida, six years later. Butch had a friend who told them Panama City needed a plastic surgeon, so they drove down and found a home and office.
Two days later, Butch invited Susan to the beach.
“So we rode out to Panama City Beach on the Fourth of July,” he remembered. “She broke into tears and said, ‘I’m not living anywhere near this place.’ It was wall-to-wall teenagers. So I said, ‘Let’s go to Chattanooga.’”
That’s where Butch’s family was from, so back to Tennessee, they turned -- and wound up here:
“We were coming through Columbus, and she woke up. It was about 8 o’clock. She’d been asleep in the front seat. She saw the sign that said ‘Columbus City Limits.’ We’d done our residency in Dallas with Bill and Janet Amos from Columbus. And she said, ‘Stop here. We’re going to spend the night with Janet. I’m tired.’ To make a long story short, we got up the next morning and bought a house.”
Then they checked out the local arts scene.
“I think we’d been here about three weeks, and we went to see the Columbus Symphony down at the old Three Arts Theater, and I remember we left there that night, and she was real quiet; she just didn’t say anything. And I said, ‘What is the matter with you?’ and she said, ‘We can do better than this.’ She went home that night and started working on ways to raise money for the symphony. She just never slowed down for the 40 years that she was here.”
What finally stopped her was a brain tumor. She died last July, at age 65.
All the volunteer work his late wife did is hard to summarize -- the Steeplechase, the Columbus Museum, foundations, etc. “When she did something, she threw her heart into it. She just became passionate about the arts in Columbus, and took that on as her project,” he said.
For 15 years she attended the “Faulkner and Yoknapatawpha Conference” at the University of Mississippi in Oxford, a summer program exploring the author’s place in Southern culture. The event this July 7-11 is titled “Fifty Years after Faulkner,” reflecting on his impact since his death in 1962.
In Susan’s name, Butch is funding a trust so that each year, four CSU faculty or students can go.
All they have to do is fill out an application, write a 500-word essay and send it to Courtney George, director of Columbus’ Carson McCullers’ Center for Writers and Musicians, which will administer the program.
Applications are available on the center’s website. The deadline’s March 15.
Of the essay, Courtney said: “I expect it to relate to Southern cultures. I’ve been to the Faulkner conference before, and while it’s focused around Faulkner, you’re learning as much about the South as you are about Faulkner.”
Faulkner’s insights influenced other authors, including McCullers, Flannery O’Connor, and the woman young Susan Marland saw shopping in Jackson, Miss., Eudora Welty.
Susan always came home from Oxford with fresh stories to tell, Butch said: “She just loved Faulkner. I told everybody I didn’t even know who Faulkner played for.”
After she died, he pondered what she would want him to do, and decided this was it:
“It was just so important to her that I wanted to do something, not necessarily to keep her memory going, but something I know she would appreciate.”
Tim Chitwood, firstname.lastname@example.org, 706-571-8508.