For the Progress-Times
A biography of Mathiston native Hugh Clegg will be released in June, according to the University Press of Mississippi.
The biography, “Troutmouth: The Two Careers of Hugh Clegg,” was written by retired University of Mississippi professor Ronald F. Borne. Clegg, son of James Monroe and Sallie Delma Conley Clegg, enjoyed a 28-year career at the FBI, rising to the No. 3 position in the bureau administration and, following his retirement from the bureau, served as executive assistant to the chancellor and director of development at the University of Mississippi for 14 years.
Clegg was among the most notable Mississippi figures during the 1920s through the 1960s.
The Clegg family has roots in Mathiston dating to the early 1800s. James Monroe and his brother Henry formed the Clegg Brothers mercantile store in Mathiston in 1897. Hugh — the first of five children born to James Monroe and Sallie Clegg in 1898 — graduated from Mathiston’s public schools, worked at his father’s store and then attended Millsap’s College.
He then moved to Washington and graduated from George Washington University Law School, where he became familiar with the Bureau of Investigation under the directorship of J. Edgar Hoover. He joined the bureau on the day he graduated and rapidly moved through the ranks to the position of assistant director of the FBI.
While with the bureau he led the search for some of the most dangerous criminals of the 1930s including John Dillinger and Baby Face Nelson. He also led or coordinated the investigations of the famous Bremer, Hamm and Lindbergh baby kidnapping cases. Under a directive from Hoover, Clegg established the FBI National Training Academy to train the nation’s law enforcement agents, thus enhancing the role and image of the bureau.
Hoover sent Clegg to England just before the outbreak of World War II to study the British intelligence agencies, and then assisted in the establishment of domestic and foreign intelligence in the United States by the bureau. Following the war, Clegg coordinated the hunt for atom bomb spy Harry Gold, who collaborated with German spy Emil Klaus Fuchs.
Clegg married Ruby Kathryn Fields, an alumna of the University of Mississippi from Anguilla, in 1941 and two years later they had a daughter, also named Ruby Kathryn Clegg.
In 1954, Clegg retired from the FBI and joined the University of Mississippi as executive assistant to the chancellor and director of development. Throughout his FBI career Clegg developed close relationships with some of the most powerful and influential political figures in America and attracted the attention of Chancellor J.D. Williams.
One of the first challenges Chancellor Williams assigned to Clegg was to establish an airport to serve the Oxford and university communities. Taking advantage of his close political relationships, Clegg secured funding to construct the University-Oxford Airport that opened in 1956. The university later honored Clegg for this achievement by naming the airfield Clegg Field.
While at Ole Miss Clegg was the prime contact between the university and the federal government during the desegregation crises of Clennon King and James Meredith. He was also assigned the lead role in combating the efforts of Mississippi politicians to discredit and remove faculty members when scholars were thought “too liberal” and therefore a threat to the state. Clegg retired from Ole Miss in 1968.
Through a Freedom of Information request from the FBI, Borne obtained over 2,000 pages of documents relating to Clegg’s bureau service. In addition, he mined Clegg’s oral history and an unpublished Clegg manuscript, “Somebody Jumped the Gun.”
He also interviewed close relations, particularly Clegg’s daughter Ruby Kathryn, who later married Aubrey Patterson. The Pattersons currently live in Tupelo. He also interviewed colleagues and friends who knew Clegg during his time at the university.
The book contains photographs of early Mathiston obtained from the private collection of Mathiston’s “unofficial” historian, Lavelle McAlpin. McAlpin also provided invaluable insight into the character of the people of Mathiston and Webster County that contributed to the environment in which Clegg was raised.
The result is a revealing portrait of a distinguished, loyal Mississippian who loyally served his community, state and nation during some of the most troubling times of the 20th century.
Borne is a retired medicinal chemist who served the University of Mississippi in teaching, research and administrative positions — a scientist by education and a writer by avocation. He has written approximately 100 professional and scientific publications as well as nonprofessional articles and two books: “Beginnings & Ends” and “The Great College Coaches Cookbook.” He lives in Oxford.