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SMITH COLUMN: What a journey for Ian Hardin

One of the benefits of residency in a college community is an exposure to countless people with absorbing resumes and singular accomplishments.

When I became entrenched at Harry’s Restaurant in Five Points, where I got an additional degree in ribald humor and nonsensical banter — which was brought about by an affiliation with Dan Magill, the sage of South Lumpkin Street — I realized early on that learned professors enjoyed his company.

Magill was an aficionado of tennis and chess. He had a literary bent, which allowed for intellectual compatibility. I began to eaves drop on conversations of the many professors who frequented Magill’s turf. Even today, when I read about some researcher whose work draws rave review, I am anxious to meet him or her. Makes me proud they came our way.

Many show up here, toil here and stay here. Like Ian Hardin, who was born in Glasgow, Scotland, raised in segregated Birmingham and was educated, in part, at Auburn. He can fluently inform you about the “use of enzymes for unique treatments of fibers and fabrics,” or all you need to know about the “pyrolysis and flammability of cellulose,” but is given to deep forays into history and the wide world of sports.

It is easy to become fascinated by his life’s journey. His has been an experience many have enjoyed when they have had the good fortune to cross boundaries and escape the shackles of provincialism. Like saying in earshot of the notorious Birmingham police chief, Bull Conner, who was a member of his father’s Sunday School Class, that he had no reluctance to have a black boy as a playmate. Heresy in those times in that environment.   

His father hailed from Comer, 18 miles east of Athens. It 

required a world war for his father to meet his mother, which came about in 1943 when his father’s artillery unit was transferred to Ayrshire on the western coast of Scotland, some 35 miles southwest of Glasgow. She was working on a farm when they met, and his dad was immediately smitten.  Love evolved into marriage “over there.”

Twenty-nine days after the D-Day invasion of Normandy took place, Ian was born. Intrigue would follow. His mom found her way to Portsmouth, England where his dad was later stationed but she returned to Scotland for the birth of her son.

By the time of Ian’s first birthday, his dad was crossing the Atlantic to be mustered out of the Army at Ft. McPherson. Ian and his mother, as a war bride, would come later on the Queen Mary to Ellis Island and then by train to Birmingham. His father was not correctly informed of the arrival date and was not there to greet Ian and his mother when they arrived. The good neighborly folk at the train depot and the office where his father worked, welcomed them warmly — until his father got the good news that his family was awaiting.

For years, Ian has been returning to Scotland, almost annually, to the land of his maternal forebears and home to countless cousins who love the game of football, where addressing the ball is only allowed with the use of the head and the feet. Not the brand to which Ian would become addicted.

Knowledgeable about many subjects, Ian was a scholarly type who earned a scholarship to Auburn in the days when Joel Eaves was the basketball coach, Vince Dooley the freshman football coach and Erk Russell, the baseball coach — all Dawgs to be.

When Ian accepted an offer to come to Athens in 1994 as head of the department of textiles, merchandising and interiors in the College of Family and Consumer Sciences, the opportunity was too good to pass up although he had spent most of his adult life (except for getting his PhD at Clemson) at Auburn.

While he is a season ticket buyer for all Bulldog sports, the emotions are shaded toward orange and blue when Georgia and Auburn meet up in the fall. He has two resonating insights about that. First, he never denigrates either institution and holds the view that “you can never trust a man who pulls against his alma mater unless he is the president or head coach of the other.” Well said!

Ian and his wife, Carol, enjoy their home on wooded acreage east of Athens where he is surrounded by books, greenery, redbirds, brown thrashers and memories of a life well lived with an appreciation for faculty which has enriched an institution and students with a bent for bringing about a better world.

Before COVID terrorized us and the regrettable demise of author Terry Kay, Ian frequented a lunch gathering in the southwest corner booth at Longhorn’s. There he has communed with the aforementioned author; Dick Hudson, retired from the Terry College and fan for all seasons — both games and the outdoors; Jack Bauerle, the swimming coach and champion breaststroker; Tudor Vlad, Grady College professor, who, with Romanian roots, can enlighten the group if the subject of Vlad, the Impaler, or Dracula, comes up; Mick Gusinde-duffy, editor for the Georgia Review and Ray McEwen, who can advise you how to build a lean-to, a house, a barn or a multi-story building.    

The Georgia Power Professor of Textile Science emeritus, Ian has found living in small college towns one of life’s rare privileges. He remains connected to his Scottish roots and has visited his cousins as often as possible over the years.

Show up for a social at his house and you can expect a pouring of single malt. He has even developed an affinity for haggis — that savory pudding “containing sheep’s pluck (heart, liver and lungs)” and traditionally was cooked in the animal’s stomach. 

Never venturing far from the classroom, he teaches a freshman seminar on Scotland every fall semester.

I am considering auditing the class, but only if he pours single malt and throws the haggis in the dumpster.