ONE-ON-ONE - October 2001

by Ed G. Lane

'I Have Called Myself a College Tramp'

From an early love for singing and voice, Lucille Caudill Little has gone on to help artists, educators and students discover their own voices

Lucille Caudille Little

Lucille Caudill Little, 92, hails from Rowan County. She married Paul Little in 1937. After his death in 1990, Mrs. Little was the sole heir to a large fortune. In 1999, the W. Paul & Lucille Caudill Little Foundation was the 9th-ranked foundation in Kentucky by total dollars donated.

Recent projects include a $1-million donation to the Lucille Caudill Little Fine Arts Library and Learning Center Fund. Equally impressive is the Lucille C. Little Theater at Transylvania University, where she was a member of the class of 1928. Another gift of $1 million to the Kentucky Horse Park Foundation will endow the International Museum of the Horse with the W. Paul Little Cultural and Learning Center. She has endowed the Lillian H. Press Distinguished Speakers Series at Centre College, and recently gave $100,000 to the Commonwealth Institute for Parent Leadership.

Ed Lane: Are you a native Kentuckian?

Lucille Little: I was born in Morehead, the county seat of Rowan County, Kentucky.

EL: Do you mind if I ask in what year?

LL: Nineteen oh-nine. I was 92 as of the 20th of August.

EL: What did your father do for a living?

LL: He was a lawyer, judge and really a banker. He did a lot of things and was one of the movers in our little town. Anything that came up that was good or educational, Dad was in there pulling for it.

EL: Where did you go to school?

LL: I have called myself a college tramp, because I have registered at 11 colleges. Generally, I can name them, but I won’t struggle with you to name them all. Of course, I went to Morehead College. And then, I’m kind of mixed up a little bit about when, I tried out for a scholarship at Ohio State. I won the first scholarship the school ever awarded in voice. Some of the other schools I also attended include Hamilton College in Lexington, Stetson College in Florida, Juilliard and Columbia in New York.

EL: What degree did you receive?

LL: I received a bachelor’s degree in voice from Ohio State.

EL: Why did you attend so many schools?

LL: To my father, education was everything, and his one thing was to get us all – I was the oldest of five children – through college. Dad said as long as we would go, he’d pay for it.

EL: When you graduated from college in the late Twenties, that was a time when women were not that “liberated” and probably not as well educated as you were. Was that a burden to you?

LL: Never thought about it, never worried about it.

EL: Was the Civil War a big issue when you were a young woman?

LL: My dad’s father was in the Confederate Army and was taken prisoner up at a place in Indiana or Illinois. Dad saw the effects of the Civil War and how it was going to divide people. He was going to get his children educated beyond that, and that’s why he wanted us to go to a school above the Mason and Dixon Line – sometime.

EL: What effect did the Depression have on your family?

LL: None, my father was quite successful. During the Depression, I was in school in Florida or Chicago. A lot of my good friends had to leave school because their families didn’t have the money to send them. That was depressing, very depressing, when I could stay but they had to leave because of money.

EL: Do you remember the first airplane you ever saw?

LL: Oh yes, and the first automobile. My mother’s two brothers – my uncles – had an Oldsmobile and it was the first car in Morehead. Oh lord, the girls were after those two. They were kind of after the girls, too. I can remember when an airplane landed on my grandfather’s land, which was right at the end of town in Morehead. I don’t recall why it landed there – it might have been with the circus.

EL: What do you remember about the first telephone?

LL: Oh I can remember, “Rrrrrrr hello.” Morehead had a telephone office. An operator did the plugging in and plugging out and all that. She was on the second floor, right at a main road crossing in the midst of town. She saw and knew everything that went on in town and passed it along.

EL: How did you meet your husband, Paul Little?

LL: Well, I was going to Ohio State and was home for a holiday, I think it was Christmas. Morehead didn’t have dance clubs, but Mt. Sterling, Winchester, Paris and Lexington had hop clubs. My sister Louise and I would be invited. So these boys in Morehead, whom I’d known all my life and grew up with, came and begged my mother into letting me go to Mt. Sterling to a hop club. It was winter and cars didn’t have heaters. Mother warmed bricks and she got me wrapped up in that car to go to that dance in Mt. Sterling. Paul came with about four men. Never before or since have I had such a rush.

EL: Was it love at first sight?

LL: Paul would come to Ohio State to see me, if I’d let him, but I had another beau at that time from up in Pennsylvania. I was pretty smitten there, and we’d talked about getting married.

EL: So how did you and Paul get together?

LL: Well, Paul’s race horse would bring him up to Beulah Park, a little nothing of a track. There would be times when he would have no school and he could go up there and race it. And the track was real close to Columbus. Of course you’re always wanting to get out with somebody else from the sorority house, so that was sort of the way it started. Then he would come up home during vacations and the relationship just kept building – until I started to different schools.
It was very expensive to study voice and drama [privately]. When I got the scholarship from Juilliard, I went to New York to study.

EL: How long did you and Paul date?

LL: Six years. Well, I had planned to have a career. And I was well on my way and with a lot of backing.

EL: What year did you get married?

LL: Nineteen thirty-seven.

EL: And how old were you then?

LL: Twenty-seven. Yeah, see I kept putting marriage off, I was going to have that career. But finally I decided, “I will be a slave to my voice, which I was then. I’ll be a slave to an agent. I will have no freedom in living. It’ll all be protect the voice, practice, learn another song, learn another part in an opera, la-ti-da, la-ti-da.” So I decided, “that’s not for me,” and that’s when I decided to get married. You often wonder what you might have done, but that’s all. I never have grieved over that, no, not at all.

EL: Paul was in the tobacco business, horses and real estate. He was good at business.

LL: Oh, yeah. There on Angliana Avenue, near the tobacco warehouse, there was a row of dwelling houses, little cottages. Paul was able to buy all of those. Back then you could buy anything for almost nothing. And Paul’s mother let him build apartments on her front lawn. It was a two story building with 12 apartments. We lived in one until we got a house. And my father helped us finance these investments. Of course, Paul paid Daddy back. It was a loan.

EL: Did you develop property on New Circle Road?

LL: Paul developed New Circle Road. Absolutely. He had been out to Oklahoma and they had a “circumvent” around the city, and he thought it was wonderful, and it really saved the traffic. So when he came back, he knew the man in the state who was the head of the highways. Paul actually walked that whole circle road and got all of the necessary acceptances to sell their land. Paul had a farm over there, about 600 acres. With that land, he made so much money. He just had a vision of land. He also made it in tobacco. The tobacco business was very vulnerable and very lucrative. It was right after World War II.

EL: When IBM came to Lexington, did that help land values?

LL: Yes, our land was in that area. Paul was always lucky, he really was. He had good judgment and vision. The reason he went out to Oklahoma was someone had given him some land out there for a horse. He hadn’t paid any attention, and there was an oil boom going on.

EL: Were Paul’s successes a factor in your kidnapping in 1979?

LL: My kidnapper was a young man whose father worked at the tobacco warehouse, and I guess he thought we had money. It was the Wednesday after Mother’s Day. He knocked on the door and presented a big pot of plants. Then when I looked around, there he was with a gun. He wanted $85,000. Well, I knew I could get the money at the bank because they were good friends of Dad’s. The kidnapper and I were going to the bank to get the money. As we were getting ready to leave, who came to the back door but Paul Little. I said to the boy, “now you better be careful how you handle him because he’s got a bad heart and is likely to fall dead right there and I don’t know what you’d do.” Paul really had the strongest heart in the world. The boy sent me alone to the bank.

EL: Did you tell your bank you were being kidnapped?

LL: Yes, I told them and that’s why I had to have the $85,000. So when I got home, I drove into the garage and I went in and I threw down the bag and I said, “there it is, and it will take you until tomorrow to count it, but it’s all there.” There was Paul sitting there still, not knowing what in the hell was going on. The boy decided to take my car and take me, and so we got in the car and he drove. He started driving all around the neighborhood real slow. Finally he started raising cain, cussing and carrying on like crazy – he was crazy. He said the “damn cops” were following us. So they followed and finally had a shoot out with the boy over on Fairway Road. The police hit him and I was on the floor in the backseat. The police shot up my car. It totaled a brand new Cadillac.

EL: Were you scared?

LL: I don’t know that I was. I never am scarable. I just took it as being in a drama, I’d say.

EL: When Paul died in 1990, you were left a lot of money to manage. You’ve been investing that money in the community. Would you talk about that a little bit?

LL: I never knew how much money we had. I never cared. After Paul died, I was surprised. There was a lot. I also found out that everything was left to me, and that made it easy. I decided I had better take care of our families first. So I took care of his and my family the same way. I don’t know how much that was but it was a whole lot of course, because it was nieces, nephews, great-nieces, great-nephews, great-greats, you know all the way, anyone with blood of mine or Paul’s.

EL: And did you have a lot of real estate?

LL: Oh, yes! That was the point. Paul bought when real estate was so cheap. I had 65 pieces of property to sell.

EL: Was the money placed in a trust?

LL: Yes, I had it down at one of the big national banks. I went down there to find out something and the books were in Pittsburgh. Boy, that clipped me with them. And I thought, “My Lord, Paul and I helped Jett start his bank,” we had money down there and had helped him start it, “why don’t I go there, I know they’ll take care of me.” I called Charlie Jett and told him what I wanted, and he said, “well I’ll come out there and talk to you.” And I guess the trust was as big as the bank, which was kind of funny. Charlie was so good to me, we just got along perfectly.

EL: How many years have you been responsible for the trust?

LL: Paul died in ’90, and I think in ’91 I talked to Charlie and made this arrangement.

EL: Because of your training in the arts, drama and voice and your father stressing education when you were a young girl, are these some of the reasons you’ve made substantial gifts in the areas of the arts and education?

LL: Yes.

EL: How much do you think you’ve contributed over the last 10 years?

LL: I don’t know exactly, I think I know, but I won’t quote. I have been sickened by the people that give money for athletics, but wouldn’t give a dime for the arts. That was so in my life before Paul died – I mean he shared this with me. He said, during his illness, for me to take over and do what I wanted to do. He knew I wanted to do it in the arts. So I am doing it with his permission.

EL: How many requests for contributions do you get?

LL: Oh Lord, everyday. I don’t know how many.

EL: Do they send requests to the bank or do they call you?

LL: Oh, every way. I am trying to direct requests to Kathy Milby at the Bank of the Bluegrass and Trust Company. And Kathy doesn’t mind reviewing the requests – she knows how I feel, what I want to do. And of course she always calls me, and never makes a decision without it being mine. The bank is awfully nice about the whole thing. When I need help, I get it. With a small bank, there are many pluses. At these big banks, you’re not known, they take care of customers at some foreign place. I can’t deal with that.

EL: What are your criteria for giving?

LL: Well, we had to make a mission statement. And the mission statement has helped me tremendously. I think I can quote it, “I am using the funds for education, specifically in fine arts, hoping to develop creativity in the individual.” As time goes on, you find things you have to add. For instance, I give to no individuals – if I did that, Lord I’d go crazy. It would be constant. The trust investigates organizations that request gifts. I require that before I decide to give them anything.

EL: Do you have any limitations on the areas in which you will make new gifts?

LL: Just the arts, that’s all. And the gifts are given only around Central and Eastern Kentucky where Paul and I made the money. I’m not reaching out to other places.

EL: Do you think Lexington is growing too fast?

LL: If everything grew with it – all of the parks – then Lexington could never grow too fast, but it’s the direction it’s taking, and there’s too much politics. I have dedicated myself to not be involved. I want to wash my hands of politics.

EL: When you give money to a school, organization or art group, do you get a lot of satisfaction from helping?

LL: Well, I do it because I want to make the gift, I’ve studied it, I think it’s correct, they need it, and it’s all up and above board. When I do all of that I feel very comfortable. Not exhilarated, no I don’t feel that way. When I looked at the library building at Midway and the wife of the president arranged for a portrait of the two of us, Paul and me – a way-too-big portrait of the two of us – she did that without asking me. So, I learned a lesson there, you don’t do anything without asking me if I approve. I felt like the portrait was imposing, but it’s good.

EL: Last week we had airplane terrorism in New York and Washington D.C. Thinking back over your 92 years in America, and all the things that have happened, how does the terrorism attack compare to World War I, World War II, the Korean War, etc.?

LL: It’s the worst thing that ever happened to this country. What’s worrying me is that the terrorists were so successful that they might try to do it in Dallas, New Orleans, Seattle. I’m scared of that.

EL: What about President George W. Bush?

LL: I think terrorism will make him or kill him. But I think it will make him. I don’t think we’re out of danger, that’s what’s worrying me. He’s got to make the right decisions. It’s ultimate for this country to survive.

EL: What advice would you give to a 21 year old woman today?

LL: Be proud of yourself, work hard and you’ll make it if you’ve got the brain. But you’ve got to have a brain and a healthy body. You have to have good health to get along in this world.

EL: Why have you given so freely in the arts?

LL: I wish people could feel the power of the arts. That the arts can be in their living. It has been such a power in my life and has led me into such beautiful pathways, that I would like everybody to have the experience.

Ed G. Lane is chief executive of Lane Consultants Inc. and publisher of The Lane Report.