Centre's 'Dead Fred' begins world tour

September 08, 2003

Fred "Dead Fred" Vinson routinely shows up at Centre College sports competitions and campus events such as the 2000 vice-presidential debate and last year's Declaration of Independence Road Trip.

Now "Dead Fred," with the help of his fraternity brother and May graduate T.J. Brown, is traveling the world.

Fred Vinson, who graduated from Centre in 1909 and from the college's law school in 1911, served as chief justice of the United States from 1946 until his death in 1953.

A tradition has developed to take his portrait, affectionately known as "Dead Fred," to campus events - and now across the globe. As legend has it, shortly after his death in 1953, members of the Phi Delta Theta chapter decided to take Vinson's portrait to Centre sporting events because in life Vinson was an athlete and avid sports fan.

"Well, all of us Phi Delts take the "Dead Fred" tradition very seriously," said Brown, a native of Dallas who double majored in economics and Spanish at Centre. "It's one of my favorite traditions of our chapter and of Centre. Some of my buddies jokingly said that Fred would make a good traveling companion, and the idea kind of stuck. Extending the 'Dead Fred' tradition by taking him abroad pleases me greatly."


Brown and "Dead Fred," who traveled in protective tubing throughout Europe, visited France, Spain and Italy June 11 through July 15. Brown is carrying a replica of Vinson's portrait. The actual painting is stored safely on Centre's campus.

The duo failed in their attempt to run with the bulls in Pamplona but toured the Vatican, witnessed a bullfight, saw a stage of the Tour de France, and took part in many other adventures.

"Many people asked me about Fred," Brown said, "from museum security wondering what 'that tube in my backpack was' to passing tourists asking if the guy in the poster was famous. Also, whenever I had someone take a picture of Fred and me, I had to explain what I was doing. These explanations came in Spanish and English. Some French, Italian and Japanese tourists also asked about him."

"Any traveling companions that we picked up became very interested in the Fred project. I had one girl threaten to steal him so that I'd have to come to California to get him back. All of our traveling companions were also offering advice on where the best places would be to take Fred's picture."

To read Brown and "Dead Fred's" travel journal and see pictures of their trip, go to http://www.centre,edutjandfred/. For more on Vinson's illustrious career and story, visit|9/8/03***

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