Professor Dr. Otis Knight was man of great intellect, humility | Mercer Legends

black and white head shot of a man wearing a suit and tie
Dr. Otis Dewey Knight. Photo from Mercer archives

Dr. Otis Dewey Knight was beloved by students and faculty alike during his 42 years at Mercer University. Respected for his vast knowledge, quiet grace and patience, his name now adorns a classroom building on the Macon campus. Here’s how he became a Mercer Legend.

Dr. Otis Dewey Knight

logo shows outline of admin building and says mercer legends since 1833

Mercer connection: Faculty member and dean

Years at Mercer: 1922-1964

What he did: Dr. Knight was born in Parker, Texas, in 1898. He graduated from high school when he was 15 years old and went on to study at the University of Texas. There, he earned a Bachelor of Arts in German in 1918 and a Master of Arts in psychology in 1920.

He briefly taught French and Spanish at San Marcos Academy, a private Christian school in Texas, before joining the Mercer faculty in 1922. At Mercer, Dr. Knight taught in a variety of fields before landing on psychology.

“It almost became legendary: ‘Don’t leave until you’ve had Dr. Knight,’” friend Dr. Richard Burts once recalled.

black and white photo of a man wearing a suit and standing next to a book shelf while looking at an open book in his hands
This picture of Dr. Otis Dewey Knight was featured on the cover of The Mercerian in 1959. Photo from Mercer archives

Dr. Knight took a two-year leave of absence from Mercer to pursue a Ph.D. in psychology, which he earned in 1936 from Ohio State University. After returning to Mercer, he served as dean of the College of Liberal Arts from 1940-1951 and then dean of the Graduate Division from 1951-1961. At his request, he then returned to full-time teaching.

Students dedicated The Cauldron 1947 yearbook to Dr. Knight, honoring “the man who does a distinctive service with quiet, unassuming dignity.”

Dr. Knight died of a heart attack in his office on campus in 1964. He was 65 years old. At the time of his death, he was Kilpatrick Professor of Psychology and chair of the psychology department.

Why he’s a legend: Dr. Knight’s death shocked the Mercer campus. In the same edition of The Mercer Cluster student newspaper that reported his death was a call to memorialize him.

“Our university has suffered an unassessable loss in the death of Dr. Otis Dewey Knight. We students revered him as a scholar, teacher, friend and counselor,” Tommy Day Wilcox, president of the Student Government Association, wrote in the newspaper. “Any memorial to him would be inadequate, but none seems more appropriate than to call the building where he taught by his name.”

exterior of a brick building. the words "Knight Hall" are etched above the door
Knight Hall. Photo by Andrea Honaker

The College of Liberal Arts faculty soon endorsed the idea, which was approved later that year by Mercer’s Board of Trustees. “Knight Hall” was inscribed on the building, and a naming ceremony was held in 1967.

a teardrop shaped medallion features the administration building tower and stained glass
The presidential seal was designed by Dr. Otis Dewey Knight and Professor Marshall Daugherty. Photo by Matt Smith

In addition to his great intellect, Dr. Knight was a man of many talents. He boxed, taught himself to play piano, painted and was interested in gemology. He, along with Professor Marshall Daugherty, designed Mercer’s presidential seal, which the president wears around his neck as a sign of authority during ceremonies like commencement.

Quotable: “In (Dr. Knight’s) relationship with students and teachers, he was gentle and unassuming, but his gentleness and his modesty were not born of weakness but of the strength of a disciplined mind and of an innately kind heart.” — Dr. Paul Cousins, professor of English, 1964

Mercer Legends is a series that highlights iconic figures who left a lasting impact on the University and its faculty, staff and students, as well as the community.


Do you have a story idea or viewpoint you'd like to share with The Den?
Get in touch with us by emailing or submitting this online form.