A Beloved First Lady: From the stylish hats to her beautiful rendition of the Centennial Song, Tyson-era students remember their charming first lady, Arla Ray Tyson
By Jennifer Meers Jones ’08
When students remember former first lady Arla Ray Tyson ’39-’40, one word frequently emerges: elegance.
“In the 1950s, the style was very glamorous, with beautiful hats, matching gloves, shoes, and purses. Mrs. Tyson always dressed in the latest styles, and her hats were always a statement. The girls looked to see what her hat would be for Charter Day or Easter. It was never a disappointment,” Julia Amason Walker ’60 said.
Mrs. Tyson was first lady from 1954 to 1966 when her husband, Dr. Arthur K. Tyson, was president of Mary Hardin-Baylor College. Each year, she sponsored the freshman class, hosted numerous parties and receptions at the president’s home, and transported students to cultural and religious events. In the summer, she enjoyed taking the college girls to the corner drug store in downtown Belton for banana splits at the soda fountain.
Walker, who was part of a singing group that represented the college at recruiting events, has fond memories of traveling to the performances with the Tysons. “She always introduced us with such pride,” Walker said. “We were little girls whose life experiences had been very sheltered and simple. She made us feel like we were the featured performers on a splendid stage.”
Mrs. Tyson was a lifelong singer who frequently joined the students to sing the college songs after Sunday lunch.
“Sundays were a special time at MHB. After church all the girls gathered in Hardy Parlors, where there was a grand piano. We formed a large circle and sang college songs. Mrs. Tyson had attended MHB and was always a part of the circle when she and Dr. Tyson joined us for lunch,” Walker said.
Kay Anderson ’63 recalls the sophistication the Tysons brought to special occasions on campus.
“I will always remember the statuesque, dignified, evening gown clad Mrs. Tyson on the arm of tuxedoed Dr. Tyson as they led the Grand March into the dining room for the Christmas Dinner,” she said. “We were always in awe of the couple, especially at this event. We all dressed up for the dinner, congregated downstairs in Hardy, and then followed the Tysons up the stairs and into the dining room.”
Judith Odom Norris ‘66 said she will never forget the warmth Mrs. Tyson showed each student.
“She made us, as students, feel welcome, even though I felt she was way above us because she was the president’s wife. It was so warming when she invited me over to have tea with her in her warm kitchen in the winter when the north wind seemed to whip through the walls. Those were special times for me.”
Mrs. Tyson passed away at the age of 89, Sept. 7, 2011, in Lancaster. Norris, who stayed in touch with the former first lady over the years, said during their many visits Mrs. Tyson always shared precious memories of her time at the university.
“The college was special to her right up to the very end of her life,” Norris said. “She was always keeping up with what was happening and wanted to give to the school’s many needs. She truly was a great first lady and lives on in the hearts of many of us from the Tyson era.”