Smith: Brilliant deans, students

Published 10:00 am Monday, May 22, 2017

There was a time when a dean had to be colorful if he expected to maintain and enjoy tradition.  Didn’t matter about his other qualifications—he was ordained to be something of a character if he had the title affixed to his name.  The few women who became deans weren’t held to the same standard.

When I think of deans of Georgia’s past, I remember that they were a loyal bunch who enjoyed the good life that a college environment offered.   They drank coffee at the Varsity, they enjoyed ice cream from the creamery on campus and played golf at the Athens Country Club.    Those of the fifties remembered World War II and football’s heyday under Wallace Butts.  Glory, Glory.

Times would change.   Deans would become more than routine administrators.  They became salesmen and marketers.   Big budgets, big challenges and government regulations.  Football fell on hard times.

“But, it is still fun,” says Charles Davis, the dean of the Henry Grady College of Journalism.   Davis is not one of those colorful deans but still hears stories about the school’s most colorful dean—John E. Drewry whose dry wit and sage commentary delighted Grady classes for decades.  Drewry is remembered, among other things, for being shot by his estranged wife.   Afterwards, when he returned to teach his first class, legend has it, students crowded into the old C-J Auditorium to witness the comeback, the owlish looking Drewry, flashed a wry smile and said, “I guess you notice I have on a new vest.”

The fun, as Davis previously noted, comes from the brilliance of today’s journalism students and the mind boggling accomplishments of Grady alumni.  Then there are the Peabody Awards, which every electronic media veteran would give his/her right arm to own.  Previous Peabody winners include Edward R. Murrow, Walter Cronkite, Bill Moyers, Barbara Walters and Lorne Michaels.

60 Minutes has earned a Peabody and so has CBS Evening News, CNN, BBC Television and National Public Radio.  It was Drewry who envisioned the awards and caused them to come about, forever linking the University of Georgia with the icons of broadcast media.

The ebullient Davis, who is always upbeat and spewing good will among his faculty, alumni and friends, grew up in Athens embracing all the traditions and institutions from the hedges to the chapel bell to the arch to Allen’s and Charlie Williams Pinecrest Lodge.  He functions, attitudinally, akin to a kid in an ice cream shop.  Hard to contain his emotions.   “My cup, indeed, runneth over.   I am having the time of my life.  I love my job,” Davis said at lunch recently at the new digs at the Georgia Center’s Savannah room.

Ask him for Grady points-of-pride and he doesn’t know where to start or when to stop.   The faculty includes the Charlayne Hunter-Gault Writer in Residence, five Meigs professors and 12 endowed professorships.    There are a number of influential centers and certificate programs including:  Center for Health & Risk Communication; the James M. Cox Jr. Center for Mass Communication Training and Communication; the James M. Cox Jr. Institute for Journalism Innovation, Management and Leadership; the Georgia Scholastic Press Association; the New Media Institute and the Sports Media Certificate.   The National Press Photographers Association moved its headquarters to Grady College in 2015.

All Georgia graduates can join Charles Davis and Grady alumni in button popping pride when lists notable Grady alumni, starting with Deborah Blum, Pulitzer Prize-winning science writer   The list also includes Ernest Camp Jr., founder of the Society of Professional Journalists; Donald Davis, former UPI reporter, White House correspondent and New York Times bestselling author of 19 books; Amy Glennon, current publisher of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution; Brenda Hampton, creator/producer of award-winning TV series including the Secret Life of the American Teenager, 7th Heaven and Fat Actress; Betty Hudson, executive vice president of Communications; Josh Jackson, editor of Paste music magazine; Tom Johnson, former chairman of CNN News Group; Tim Mapes, senior vice president of marketing, Delta; Julie Moran, first woman to anchor ABC’s Wide World of Sports; Deborah Norville, host of Inside Edition; Deborah Roberts, correspondent ABC’s 20/20 and the aforementioned Hunter-Gault, the first black woman to anchor a national television newscast.

With degrees from North Georgia College, UGA and Florida (“That was the only time I have ever been miserable,” he laughs.) and teaching experience at Missouri, he finds no alumni are more congenial, more supportive of one another and truly care about one another than those with their names on Grady Alumni rolls.

“You think I don’t feel blessed!” he said.  Somewhere I could see a Grady alumni gathering at some distant port with everybody in a Kymbaya mood but singing “Glory to Ole Georgia.”