Espey grew up in Fairfield, graduating from Fairfield High School.
While a student in the 1960s, Espey donned an elephant-head mask for Alabama Crimson Tide football games, helping lead cheers. Coach Bear Bryant, who gave him the nickname "Elephant", contacted him to ask that he represent the university with class and not embarrass himself. As a member of the school's committee for desegregation, he was asked by the administration to help welcome Vivian Malone and James Hood to the campus following Governor George Wallace's Stand in the Schoolhouse Door.
Espey was hired as director of administrative housing operations in 1970 and remained with Alabama for the rest of his career. Among his achievement was pushing for female students to be accepted into the Omicron Delta Kappa national honor society. Alabama's was the first chapter to admit a female member. He later directed the University's Ferguson Center, Campus Activities, Student Life and University Recreation
In 1979, when SGA officer Craig Cantrell campaigned to revive the elephant mascot, he brought Espey with him to seek Bryant's blessing. Bryant agreed, if the pair would take charge of seeing that the mascot reflected well on the program.
Espey, as director of student affairs, took the lead in planning memorial services when Bryant died in 1983.
Espey retired as director of student recreation and assistant to the vice-president for student affairs in 1996. He died in 2010 and was survived by his wife, Rebecca; two sons and one grandson. He is buried at Memory Hill Gardens.
- Dewitt, Robert (January 19, 2008) "Paul 'Bear' Bryant: Honoring a Legend. From Those Who Knew Him Best: Melford Espey". Tuscaloosa News
- Morton, Jason (March 11, 2010) "UA official was 'moral compass'." Tuscaloosa News
- "Melford Edward Espey Jr." obituary (March 11, 2010) Tuscaloosa News
- "Espey was one of UA's most loyal alumni" (March 12, 2010) Tuscaloosa News