Ernest J. Smith
Born on August 14, 1943, in Bainbridge, Georgia, Alfred DeWitt Corn III was the youngest of three children and the only son born to Grace Lahey Corn and Alfred DeWitt Corn, Jr. Shortly after the boy’s birth, his father was mustered into the army, assigned to the Army Corps of Engineers, and stationed in the Philippines. In 1945, on the day of young Alfred’s second birthday, his mother died of complications following a burst appendix. Initially, friends took care of the three children, who were then cared for by the father’s sister Jon and her husband Fred Schoer, on a farm near Ray City, Georgia. When the children’s father was discharged from the army in 1946, the family moved in with the father’s parents in Valdosta, Georgia, before setting up their own household in the same town. In 1948 Alfred remarried Virginia Whitaker MacMillan, a young war widow fourteen years younger than himself. Five years after the marriage, the couple had a daughter, but she died within a year from meningitis.
Young Alfred Corn distinguished himself academically beginning with the early grades of grammar school. A product of public schools, he graduated as salutatorian from his junior high school and entered Valdosta High School. By his own account, the years from 1956 to 1961 were years of “religious fervor,” manifested in a desire to become a Methodist minister. About this time, Corn became aware of his sexual orientation, though he continued to date female classmates in the thought that he might be simply going through a phase. He was also by this time beginning to write poems and stories and composed a senior thesis on James Joyce and the stream-of-consciousness technique. Exceptional scores on his SATs helped him gain acceptances by Columbia, Emory, Harvard, Princeton, and Yale, and in 1961 he began studies at Emory as a French major, traveling