A Story about Two Honorable Men

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I don’t make a big deal a lot of the time about the fact that I was a journalism major in school and spent some time in the newspaper (and then the book publishing) business before leaving it all behind for the glamor and fame of craft writing. (Ha!) But even though I don’t consider most of what I do now to be “real journalism,” I still consider journalists my people and I feel like I’d still be comfortable in a newsroom even though it’s been many, many years since I worked in one.

I love it when I get to get together with journalists, and Thursday night presented a fabulous opportunity to do so as we welcomed two amazing men into the Lemke Journalism Society Hall of Honor. (For those who don’t know, Lemke is Walter J. Lemke, also known as Uncle Walt, a former professor in the journalism department for whom the department is named.) The Hall of Honor was established in 2000 to honor people who’ve made a difference in the field of journalism who are role models in their careers and in their lives.

hall of honor
Me, in the middle, with KUAF superstars Katy and Kyle. (I stole these pictures from Facebook, by the way.)

They couldn’t have picked a better pair to honor when they chose Andy Lucas and Gerald Jordan.

The Art of Hospitality

Andy Lucas is known to the university community as a longtime advocate for and supporter of the Arkansas Alumni Association. A proud veteran of the Korean War, he studied journalism at the U of A and worked in advertising and corporate communications before coming back to his alma mater to edit the alumni magazine. In the early days of his tenure the alumni association was the only way for people outside of the state to get information about what was going on on campus and he shared it all, including written play-by-plays of Razorback games.

andy lucas
Andy Lucas, speaking at the Hall of Honor ceremony.

He worked in a lot of positions at the association before his retirement and always brought an enthusiasm and passion for his home state and his school.

I know Andy because my mom used to work at the Alumni Association and we went to the same church when I was a child. I remember going to visit them when I was growing up, sharing meals and celebrations. Their home always felt warm and inviting, full of love, and I know he brought that same spirit of generosity and hospitality to his work supporting former students and welcoming them back to campus when they visited.

Even now, years later, even though I was just the kid of someone he worked with, he always greets me with great enthusiasm and a big, warm hug. I love that about him.

The shortness of this description should in no way be taken as a reflection of what this man means to me, it’s just I know I’m going to write a novel about Prof. Jordan and I want you to actually read that part, too.

The Reason I Went into Journalism

When I started college, I was a history major. I’d been in newspaper class since junior high and had a hand in editing my junior high and high school newspapers, so I didn’t want that part of my life to go away, but I wasn’t sure that was the right career for me (I’m really shy and even after all the time I spent in the business I still don’t like talking to strangers).

So I thought I’d be a teacher — great choice for someone afraid of public speaking, right? — and that history would be fun. That must have been my dad rubbing off on me because he’s the one who’s really interested in history. If you made me be a teacher I’d much rather teach English. Or journalism. Whatever.

The point is I figured out pretty quickly that being a history teacher was not the path for me, and all along I’d been taking journalism classes. When I landed in Prof. Jordan’s Style and Usage, class, though, things started to get clearer.

gerald jordan
My hero, Gerald Jordan, at the Hall of Honor ceremony.

You should know that Prof. Jordan is tough. He can be kind of intimidating to student who don’t know him, but he’s tough because he expects so much and wants his students to excel. And when he sees something in you, he’ll push you even harder, but in a way that lets you know he’s doing it because he cares.

That spring he told me about all the scholarships the department gives out to its students. Free money is always good, but I had to tell him I wasn’t really a journalism major. He told me pretty plainly that ought to change, so it did.

I took as many of his classes as I could, and I learned so much from him about writing and editing. But it’s the fun moments that really stand out, like the day President Clinton was impeached and we spent the whole hour in news writing class writing ledes emphasizing different parts of the story (who, what, when, where, why and how). Yes, that was actually fun, and you learn a lot about a story when you look it in from different angles like that.

Or there was a particularly poorly attended Style and Usage class in which we teamed up to come up with songs that used incorrect grammar effectively. (My contribution: “We don’t need no education.”) I’m not 100 percent sure what the journalism lesson is there, but every time I hear “Sittin’ on the Dock of the Bay” I still hear him singing.

Later on he told me to apply to be editor of the Traveler, so I did. He told me to apply for a Dow Jones Newspaper Fund internship, so I did. Both of those ideas turned out to be good ones (I was editor of the Trav in ’99-2000 and after graduation did an internship with Dow Jones at the Gloucester Daily Times in Gloucester, Mass., where I learned a lot and definitely left part of my heart).

I jokingly call Prof. Jordan my spiritual adviser, but really he’s more like my compass. Even when I’m not talking to him I think about what his advice would be in certain situations. Jeff, who was editor after me and who got the honor of introducing Prof. Jordan to the crowd last night, said when he quit journalism the hardest thing was talking to Prof. Jordan about it.

I completely understand. He’s like our dad; we didn’t want to disappoint him.

I, on the other hand, had to use him as a reference when I left the profession. It was a secret that I was looking for a new job and I’d basically only worked for one company in my career. It was really hard to ask. I did it by e-mail. I like to think he understood and I know he helped me get the job, so I’m grateful for that.

I don’t know if he understands what I do for work now, or if he’d call it journalism, but I know that he shaped me into the writer and the person I am today.

It is staggering to me to think about his life, going from the colored school in Malvern, Ark., to the Philadelphia Inquirer to teaching at the school he loves. He’s a testament to the power of inspiring teachers, and he in turn has become an inspiration for so many students.

So thanks, Prof. Jordan, for whatever it is you saw in me all those years ago. My life would not be the same without you.

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