First Post: Shock and Grief, May 31, 2022
When I stepped out of a Greyhound bus in Abilene, Texas, in 1979, I was determined to earn a bachelor’s degree and become a broadcast journalist. I had no idea that one of my Abilene Christian University journalism professors would influence and redirect my career in the remarkable ways that the late Dr. Charlie Marler did. The long trip from my native Memphis, Tennessee, was a time of celebration and joy for numerous reasons. I was the first in my family to enroll in college. My family helped me pack all our hopes and dreams in the borrowed suitcases donated by my former junior high school guidance counselor, Viola O’Neil Cole, and Peggy and Geno Grandi. The Grandis gave me a part-time job during high school cleaning their East Memphis house. I had a scholarship from the Delta Sigma Theta Sorority and the blessings and prayers of my beloved parents, Rowena H. Whiting, and Prince Whiting Jr. Moreover, the Tennessee to Texas bus trip was important to the community, including members of the Southside Church of Christ, and Mary and Myron Lowery, among many others. I knew a lot of people wanted me to succeed and I planned to accomplish just that.
Marler was my Communication Law professor and at that time, chair of ACU’s Department of Journalism and Mass Communication. Before I graduated in 1983, I had landed a part-time job working in TV news at KRBC, which was Abilene’s NBC affiliate at that time. Further, I had already sold a story to CNN, which was pretty amazing for a greenhorn still in college. After graduation, I left Abilene to pursue new jobs in other states and returned a decade later to be honored with the Gutenberg Award. As time pressed forward, I kept in touch with Marler, and he shared some of the projects he was working on. Peggy Marler, his wife, always answered the phone with a kind voice and then said: “Here’s Charlie” and handed him the phone. Marler and I had long phone conversations about media-related topics, and he was always interested in my career and encouraged me.
In 2019, we had an extended conversation about being multimedia specialists, which we both were. In December 2020, he basically ordered me to go back to school to become a historian, after I told him about my just-published Texas Highways magazine stories. I followed orders and he wrote recommendation letters to support my graduate history applications.
Long-time Abilene friend, Susan Perry, alerted me May 25, 2022, that Marler was in ICU. I spoke with Peggy, and she updated me that he had had a stroke. I was sick with fear and asked her to please keep me informed. I prayed. She alerted me on May 27 via a text message that he had died. I was overcome with grief that day and inconsolable when I saw his picture on an Abilene funeral home’s website.
I am coping with my grief by writing and rereading his graduate history recommendation letters. I just completed 12 graduate hours on a part-time basis at the University of Texas at Arlington, thanks to two fantastic scholarships from UTA Professor Emeritus and Association for the Study of African American Life and History (ASALH) President Dr. W. Marvin Dulaney. Further, I was accepted into the doctorate program at the University of North Texas. Marler knew of my progress and that I planned to start the doctorate, pending the best financial aid support I can receive, this fall. I am so glad I quickly followed his orders because he predicted I could leverage my journalism expertise as he did and make a significant contribution. I plan to specialize in African American history in Texas.
Marler went above and beyond by making himself available to me and his other former students. He rejected the traditional patriarchal mindset of his generation and saw each student as capable of achieving more, and more, and more. He practiced what he preached by conducting scholarly research and continuing to write to the end of his life.
Please leave your comments to these questions: How did Dr. Marler impact your career and life? Have you ever experienced the death of a mentor? How did you cope?
About the Author:
Regina L. Burns, M.A., Project+, is an award-winning multimedia editor and journalist, specializing in Black history and African American stories at Harvest Reapers Communications. Her work has been published in Texas Highways magazine, WFAA-TV, The Dallas Morning News, the Fort Worth Star-Telegram as well as The Commercial Appeal, the Tri-State Defender and The Flyer, among others.