My journalism professor, mentor, and guiding light, Dr. Charlie Marler, died May 27, 2022, and I am creating a series of blog posts about the impact he had on my and his other former students’ journalism and media careers. I am bringing his colleagues and others into the conversation as well. In this post, I share the text of Ron Hadfield's remarks from the Celebration of Life service, held June 1, 2022, at the University Church of Christ, Abilene, TX.
Fourth Post: Ron Hadfield's Remarks at Dr. Charlie Marler's Celebration of Life Service, June 1, 2022
The Marlers shared Charlie’s 89th home-cooked birthday lunch with me last month, a feast including two of his favorites: barbeque pork ribs and a decadent chocolate cake. The conversation was candid and comforting, and it reminded me of moments years ago around the same table between this college student and two of the most godly people I’ve ever known.
Charlie Marler was my college professor, my professional mentor and my Texas Father, and not always in that order. I did not aspire to be a college professor, but in most other ways, my journalistic apple, so to speak, did not fall far from his tree.
By task and by default, we have found ourselves serving as unofficial historians for Abilene Christian, for a combined total of more than 100 years, a number I have a hard time grasping.
That’s a privilege and a responsibility we enjoyed but took seriously: a blessing with, at times, a heavy yoke. In short, we learn about our shared alma mater, store the facts where others can hopefully find them later, and tell stories about its people and moments that matter most.
Together, we have worked across the street at a place where the late, great academic dean Walter H. Adams once said he was a member of the church, at the institution where he was worth more to the church than anywhere else. We saw our work that way, as mission and vocation.
For just short of 40 years, I have had the often unenviable task of proofing and editing the best editor I knew.
Even at the end of his eighth decade, Charlie could work circles around most people half his age. His work ethic, like my own parents, has been an inescapable inheritance. Before his stroke and fall last week, he likely was online, at age 89, researching something to benefit his latest project for me or his own interest on ACU’s behalf.
Over time, kinks began to show in his armor, thanks to failing vision, a slightly leaky memory and the challenge of keeping up with "Associated Press Stylebook" editors who changed their mind on punctuation and usage like most of us change our socks.
But he genuinely appreciated the extra set of eyes I brought to our relationship, and we regularly exchanged drafts of our work. I sought his counsel on difficult days, and he always wanted to know what was new in my world. Over time, my professor became my teammate and confidant.
By Dr. Cheryl Mann Bacon
Charlie was my teacher. He chaired my master’s thesis. He hired me to be his graduate assistant and to the JMC faculty. He was a part of the faculty I led when I succeeded him as chair. He was my elder, mentor, editor and friend.
He concluded his post with four things he thought were important:
• the love of civil discourse
• a passion for the First Amendment
• writing well and teaching others to write well
• and being a good mom.
In the dozens of tributes from former students this past week, variations of those same themes emerged over and over.
Paul Anthony, a former Optimist editor who’s now a doctoral student himself, recalled a conversation in Doc’s office when he was working through his views on some difficult topics.
He said Doc “never felt the need to make clear his own position. He knew that what I needed was an ear, not an opinion. The result was that I came away from those talks a more tolerant, more compassionate, more open-minded person.”
That was typical. Charlie had no patience for shallow thinking, but he loved a challenging conversation with students or colleagues who might disagree with him – so long as they were thoughtful, had their facts right, and could be civil about it.
Many students described that civility as kindness. The student who was struggling to pass received exactly the same kindness as the one he was encouraging to go to grad school, which he did frequently.
He often paraphrased Deuteronomy and said we must teach our students in the classrooms, the halls, the labs, our offices, the sidewalks, the parking lots and our homes. His civility and kindness were like that, too. Everywhere and at all times.
Then there was his passion for the First Amendment.
I remember him vividly describing his visit to James Madison’s grave on the grounds of Montpelier, in Virginia. When I had the chance to visit there a few years later and stood in that small family cemetery, I could just imagine the conversation that must have transpired in Charlie’s mind as he stood by the grave of his hero.
Charlie understood that nothing else about our Constitutional form of government works if we fail to honor and protect those freedoms – of religion, speech, the press, and the right of the people to assemble and petition for redress of grievances.
Fact: Dr. Marler was inducted into the Texas Intercollegiate Press Association's Hall of Fame in 2003
He believed passionately that all truth is God’s truth – and if the truth is hidden or suppressed, then we cannot make informed decisions –about government, or religion, or life. And he was all about making informed decisions.
That passion inspired his philosophy of student journalism, which demanded absolute excellence of his students --- and occasionally drove university presidents absolutely crazy.
But he believed that if we want students to go out into the world prepared to speak truth to power, well then they have to practice it -- here, now and unfettered.
His Optimist staffs consistently rose to the occasion because they knew he would go to the mat for them – and because disappointing him was unthinkable.
At the heart of not disappointing Charlie was writing well. Professional journalists all over the country hear Doc’s voice in their ears when they recall that
• a lot is two words
• that and which are not interchangeable
• redundancy wastes the reader’s time
• concision doesn’t mean short – it means the shortest path to understanding
• Always cite your sources
• And my personal favorite – avoid dead construction.
Now, my friend Cole Bennett tells me that ‘dead construction’ is not a grammarian’s term. They call passive constructions like ‘it is’ and ‘there are’ etc., ‘expletives’. But Charlie called them dead. I know this, because when he returned my 40-page graduate Comm Law paper I got a 98. Not a 100, because somewhere on about page 23 I had used “It is” one time, and there in bright red capital letters, underlined twice, were the words: AVOID DEAD CONSTRUCTION.
The analogy merits chasing just a bit. He called it dead because excellent writing should never have a vague subject and a passive verb. Excellent writing, and an excellent Christian life should be focused, vibrant and alive.
Finally, Charlie wrote to me in that post about being a good mom. Anyone who was around Charlie for even a little while knew that he adored Peggy, and he loved being a dad, and a grandfather. He could not talk about family without his trademark twinkle. Great journalism was important. Family was more important.
Lance Fleming, in his tribute last week wrote that when he sought Doc’s advice about a job change, “He agreed that my time on the road was better spent being at home with Jill, Ashley, and Ryan.”
For two years, Doc and Peggy had prayed every day for Rex, Lance and Jill’s oldest son, and for two years Doc ended every email or text to Lance with the words, “God, please kill Rex’s cancer.”
On the morning after Rex died, Lance had this message from Doc.
“Wow, God is good. Rex is healed forever; you guys now have an even more special connection to heaven,” he wrote. “You know hope is real. You will be finding new ways to touch Rex every day.”
So to Peggy, David, Todd, Scott and all the Marlers – and to all of us, I close with a very careful edit of Charlie’s own words:
“Wow, God is good. Charlie is healed forever. We now have an even more special connection to heaven. We know hope is real, and we will find new ways to hear Doc’s words in our ears every day.”
My journalism professor, mentor, and guiding light, Dr. Charlie Marler, died May 27, 2022, and I plan to write a series of blog posts about the impact he had on my and his other former students’ journalism and media careers.
Second Post: Searching for Healing, June 4, 2022
I attended the June 1, 2022, Celebration of Life service (download the searchable .PDF). I offered my condolences to Peggy Marler and the rest of Dr. Charlie Marler’s family and colleagues at Abilene Christian University in Abilene, Texas. Each speaker trumpeted Marler's commitment to his family, academic scholarship, his faith, and the Abilene community through meaningful anecdotes and his favorite scripture in Philippians. I plan to post the text of some of the speakers' remarks as I receive them.
Furthermore, this week, I visited ACU’s Journalism and Mass Communication Department to search for healing of my grief through conversations with members of the JMC community and to celebrate my days as a former KACU announcer/JMC student. Meeting some of the current students and staff, as well as touring classrooms, offices, ACUTV, and the Morris+Mitchell student agency contributed to my healing journey. As the first Black person and the first woman to receive ACU's Gutenberg Award, which Marler created, touching familiar ground was a smart step.
Additionally, I advanced my graduate history studies by meeting with two ACU librarians, Melinda Isbell and Laura Baker. They steered me to a wealth of resources and academic research strategies. Their invaluable guidance advanced my goal to fulfill Marler’s wish that I become a historian, specializing in African American history in Texas.
Moreover, due to a series of unplanned events, I met an ACU staffer, Evan Steele, who went out of his way to support my goals to honor Marler’s legacy, and also, become a Texas historian. Steele offered support and great foreign-language study tips, which will help me prepare for forthcoming Spanish exams for graduate school.
All in all, I received an ocean of comfort from so many people, including Susan Perry, a long-time Abilene friend who alerted me to Marler's illness, which she found out about in an email from the University Church of Christ. I am so thankful to that church for its quick email blast. Additionally, I appreciate Susan for her fast communication to me, and to her brother, Greg Perry, for his support. If it had not been for them, I would not have known Marler was sick!
Subsequently, this week was filled with overwhelming grief and loss. Nevertheless, I am navigating through the grief and charting new paths forward. Most of all, I am excited about the new people and resources that came into my life during my time in Abilene. I believe Marler had a hand in it.
Previous post in the series: Mourning the Death of Dr. Charlie Marler, My ACU Professor and Mentor
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.
She previously worked for a variety of news media organizations as an editor and journalist, including The Associated Press in Mississippi and Texas. She was news director at WLOK-AM and WGKX KIX-106 FM in Memphis. Learn more
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