A native Kansan who has spent much of her life in college towns that are larger and more fast-paced than Oxford, Sharon Vitter has had little trouble settling in her new hometown since arriving from Lawrence, Kansas, in January.
“Lawrence is kind of a quirky college town in a good way, and I think Oxford has that same neat feel,” she says. “They both have lots of shops, plenty of good restaurants and so many things to do and see. Oxford has such charm, and there seems to be a lot of energy here.”
Raised on a farm in rural Miami County, Kansas, Vitter earned a degree in pharmacy from the University of Kansas in 1978. She worked at a hospital in Kansas City before getting an offer from a Veterans Administration hospital in California.
“Growing up on a farm, I had never been west of the Rocky Mountains when I went to college,” she says. “I had a chance to move to California, and being young and adventurous, I decided to go for it.”
She later got a job at Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital at Stanford, where she met Jeff Vitter, then a doctoral student in computer science. They married a couple of years later, when Jeff was a young faculty member at Brown University. Their three children Jillian, Scott, and Audrey were all born while at Brown, where Sharon served as an officer in the University Women’s Club. The family later moved to Durham, North Carolina, where Jeff became department chair and a distinguished professor of computer science at Duke University.
There, Vitter volunteered in the schools, helping with reading programs in the classrooms. She continued to help in the schools in West Lafayette, Indiana, after Jeff became Hovde Dean of Science at Purdue University.
At both Duke and Purdue, she became increasingly involved in her husband’s efforts to bring people together to solve problems, a role she hopes to continue at Ole Miss.
“Jeff’s style of leadership has always been to invite people into our home for dinner to build camaraderie and get them to share ideas and thoughts,” she explains. “I guess I’ve been a big party planner a lot of my life. We’ve thrown some really lively Mardi Gras parties.”
In her spare time, Vitter likes to garden, hike and read. She has enjoyed reading in her neighborhood book club as well as the Common Reading books the past few years at KU, and she looks forward to participating in the Common Reading program at Ole Miss. She also is a fan of John Updike’s work and for the past couple of years has been involved in a Bible study group led by a retired priest in Lawrence.
Like her husband, she is on Twitter and invites the Ole Miss family to follow her (@SharonVitter). She has been impressed with the passion and commitment shown by UM faculty, staff, alumni and supporters since her initial visit to Oxford back in October.
“The people here seemed to take the job search extremely seriously, and they were so warm and welcoming when we arrived,” Vitter says. “It’s really helped us feel at home here in Oxford.”