Most readers of this will know 74-year-old Robert Khayat as the former Ole Miss chancellor and former Rebel football and baseball star who went on to play for the Washington Redskins in the NFL. He is a Mississippi Sports Hall of Famer and a loyal supporter of our museum.
What many won’t know about Khayat how close he came to death 52 years ago when a priest was called to his hospital bedside to administer last rites.
“When I was a young man of 22, I was the picture of good health,” Khayat has written. “I had already played my first season with the Washington Redskins, holding my own against some of the finest athletes in the country, and was back in Mississippi, practice teaching at a high school in Vicksburg.”
Khayat awakened one morning with a searing pain in his abdomen. His doctor at the time mistakenly believe the pain stemmed from a ruptured appendix and made the decision to do exploratory surgery. It was, in retrospect, a mistake. Khayat’s health issue was pancreatitis. The 10-inch incision in his stomach was the worst “treatment” possible for Khayat’s ailment.
The future Hall of Famer spent 105 days in Vicksburg’s Mercy Hospital, where doctors called a priest to his bedside believing they had exhausted all medical options.
“The second opinion, my own, was more optimistic,” Khayat has said. “I never gave up, and I always felt that I would be healed and would get well.. . .”
“…Afterward, when I knew that I would in fact survive, live to play a few more seasons for the Redskins, and perhaps get married and have a family,” Khayat continued, “I realized something just as profound in terms of the lasting impact it had on me: None of us is immortal. No matter whether we are eight or eighty, we never know when our time is up.
“Life is precious and can be lost in a heartbeat. Understanding there will be defeats, losses, disappointments, challenges — sometimes life will seem and actually be unfair. At the same time, there is so much to be enjoyed and cherished, so many opportunities in knowing that giving —- that is, reaching out to others, is where the true value is found.
“Peace is the ultimate goal and can be found only by reaching out, looking out and forward –– trying to make the world a better place.”
Fifty-two years later, Khayat stands as is living proof of his words.