Remembering Roomie’s roots during Homecoming

Through the years Southeastern has continuously changed. The campus itself has expanded in size, and a steadily growing student and faculty population keeps the university thriving. It might be easy to forget where it all began.
However, one facet of the university has remained a constant on and off campus since 1962, and that would be Southeastern’s cherished mascot, Roomie the Lion. Over the years, Roomie has consistently brought plenty of spirit and love to this ever-changing campus.
“He adds a lot of excitement and spirit to what goes on here. The children love to see him; he makes everybody feel good,” said Kathy Pittman, director of the Alumni Association. “He makes you feel like you want to be a part of Southeastern, and he brings back a lot of memories for the people that have already graduated.”
According to Pittman, Roomie is a major part of the campus’ school spirit. He attends many athletic events throughout the year, including home football, basketball and baseball games, and occasionally goes with the cheerleaders to away games. Roomie is also a part of the Lion’s Cub Club, a club run by the athletics department intended for children to create Southeastern inspired artwork and play games at home football games. During this time, Roomie visits with the children and radiates the positive Lion pride.
Southeastern’s mascot was always a lion, but did not have a live mascot until Clifford Ourso, a Baton Rouge businessman, donated him to the university in 1962. The cub, which had something wrong with his paw, was originally cared for by Ourso’s daughter. After growing too large to be contained by the Ourso family, the Audubon Zoo and Southeastern made an agreement that the lion would be transported in a large cage for home football games. After the game, the SGA president and a fellow member would drive the lion back to the zoo.
Pittman recalls one event in which past Alumni presidents, Erik Pittman and Mike Dubois ran into a dilemma returning the lion.
“They went to get the lion, and it was Homecoming; the whole town came to the game.  Before the game, you couldn’t even get through the town,” said Pittman. “I was on Lionettes, and my parents had a business downtown, so I went downtown, and we got a call from my grandmother who lived next door, and she said ‘The lion is at our house.’ We lived four blocks from campus on a dead end street, so they decided to bring the lion to my house to get him away from the crowd, but it didn’t happen. Instead all of these people were going down to where our house was.”
According to Pittman, it took Roomie a while to find his name. The student body originally named him Lobo, which means “wolf,” and the zookeeper called him Phillip. Two years later, in 1964, his name was changed to what everyone thought was the more suitable, “Roomie,” in honor of Hollis “Roomie” Wilson. Wilson, a Southeastern alumni and former biology professor, passed away unexpectedly, leaving behind his respectable nickname for the mascot to adopt.
“He [Wilson] had a roommate [Tommy Womack] that was on crutches, and he couldn’t get around. Whenever they were going anywhere, Hollis, Roomie, would pick up his roommate and put him on his back and carry him down the steps,” said Pittman. “Every time they wanted to go someplace Tommy would say ‘Come on, Roomie, let’s go,’ so that’s how he got the nickname Roomie. Everyone knew him and loved him, and of course he loved Southeastern. They could not have thought of a better name for him after Hollis Wilson.”
Roomie resided on campus for a brief time in a $4,000 cage on the corner across from Dyson Street because the zoo did not want the animals to contract disease from the ongoing leaving and returning. Due to the stench emitting from the cage and Roomie’s habit of roaring in the middle of the night, he was returned to the zoo.
In 2000 the university attempted to acquire another live lion but was unable to due to expenses, limited space and changing laws. Even though there is no longer a live animal on campus, the athletic department keeps Roomie alive through students who take on the role of the famous lion. Traditionally, no one knows who Roomie is, but there are likely to be one or more students acting as Roomie in any given year as stated by Pittman.