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
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.
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.
And lastly, he cared!
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?
I had the privilege of working with McCaa during a series of contract gigs at Channel 8 that involved the assignment desk. The best description of what working on the assignment desk is comes from one of my esteemed Abilene Christian University journalism professors, Dr. Charles Marler—it’s “like an octopus.” For example, the Desk:
• Manages day-to-day and breaking news assignments for TV news crews.
• Navigates Twitter and Facebook for updates.
• Vets information across a host of databases.
• Provides research support by phone.
My most-memorable-McCaa moment was during WFAA’s coverage of the Dallas police ambush in the summer of 2016. This tragic event brought the newsroom to a collective heartfelt loss, for all those who were killed and injured. There were other emotions that elevated us: admiration and respect for the videographers and reporters who were on the scene that fateful day, July 7, 2016. In the midst of handling logistics, gathering details of funeral arrangements and verifying other information for producers, I witnessed McCaa’s calm leadership during our team briefings.
Having worked in journalism for a variety of news organizations such as: KRBC-TV in Abilene, WPTY-TV, WLOK and WGKX radio stations in Memphis, FayObserver.com in Fayetteville, North Carolina, as well as The Associated Press in Jackson, Mississippi, and Dallas, (not to mention a wealth of freelance gigs), by far the Dallas police ambush story was the toughest to cover.
McCaa brought experience gained from other challenging assignments in his long career to this tragic event in Dallas.
He writes that retiring from television news after more than 42 years is “not easy.” However, he sensed that God “decided it was time” and he’s being obedient.
I am thrilled that my career dovetailed with his and that I gained so much from being in the newsroom during his tenure. His TV news experience, his depth of knowledge and his caring spirit elevated the environment and the newscast. Every time.
Thank you for your service. #ThanksJohn
(c) March 2019 Harvest Reapers Communications. All Rights Reserved.
This year's Gutenberg Award honorees are: Tracey Ferguson, Victoria Ahlén and Lovey Chin.
Students received insights from the following presenters:
9 a.m: "Entrepreneurial Journalism: Making Yourself the Brand"
Moderator- Kenneth Pybus, J.D.
Panel members- Regina L. Burns,Grant Rampy, Wendell Edwards and Tracey Ferguson
10 a.m: "Internships: Launching Your Career"
Moderator- Doug Mendenhall
Panel members- Victoria Ahlén, Brent Magers, Marcia Prior-Miller, Ron Hadfield, Lovey Chin and Byron Harrell
Here is the handout (.pdf), Four Stages of Your Career Diagram, that I shared during my presentation.
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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