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  • Writer's pictureDavis Young

DY: In Just a Few Words (#133)

I cannot thank these men enough.

If you’re really lucky, you might have one or two great role models in your lifetime. It could be an elementary school teacher. Maybe a professor in college. Or a coach. Perhaps a workplace mentor.

I’ve been been blessed with several incredible role models in my 84 years. Here are the stories of three. In the future, I may come back and add more, but let’s start with this trio.

All of these men were faculty members in the School of Journalism at the University of North Carolina. I owe each of them a huge debt of gratitude.

The first was Walter Spearman, a true campus legend. He was a real Renaissance man - many interests, not the least of which was live theater. He was a regular in the cast of the Carolina Playmakers. But, Walter (and students called him by his first name) was also a superb teacher. Why? His door was always open for any student who came his way. He was never too busy to talk with a student. It wasn’t so much that he passed on academic pearls, but rather the example he set by his accessibility that made Walter stand out. He and his wife, Dale, lived their values. Those were great Sunday evenings when groups of students would have dinner with the Spearmans in their home. Although not a faculty member, Dale Spearman was a partner in Walter’s unending quest to get students off on the right foot.

Next up was Ken Byerly, a journalist/businessman who found his way from a successful newspaper ownership experience in Montana to the classroom of a southern university. He was what is known as a community journalist. Ken had a mission, and that was to tell the story of communities. He left global reporting to the global media. He wanted you to know what was happening right where you live. He didn’t race to be first with breaking news. Being first wasn’t his mission. Being right was. Ken had owned several newspapers in small Montana markets before he got to Chapel Hill. He passed on his business knowledge and his passion for real community journalism. He exuded the values of journalism at the local level.

Last, but certainly not least, was one of the all-time great characters from the world of journalism - Jim Shumaker. He was indeed the crusty editor portrayed in the syndicated comic strip Shoe, created by one of his students. I worked for Jim Shumaker the summer between my junior and senior years at UNC, when he was serving as editor of The Chapel Hill Weekly. He was tough as nails. Not one syllable more than necessary and never an extra unnecessary word. I did everything at that newspaper - reporter, filling newspaper boxes each week, running the photo engraving machine, writing photo captions, driving the paper’s truck and more and more and more. He was tough at work and tough in the classroom. Nothing escaped him. I was editor of the campus paper, The Daily Tarheel, but I still had one heck of a time earning a single A in his class. You may remember Jim from one of my earlier blogs. He is the professor who, when finally awarding me that elusive A, wrote This paper is not entirely rotten.

Three great mentors. While I learned something different from each of these professors, I have used their lessons every day for the past 60+ years.




Take a moment today to thank the mentor(s) in your life. And take the time to mentor someone else - today and everyday. Perhaps they will write a blog about you in 60 years.


DY: In Just a Few Words is a blog that comes out when something needs to be said or every Tuesday - whichever comes first. Davis Young is a communications professional who adds 50+ years of experience and perspective to issues of the day. His emphasis in DY: In Just a Few Words will be humor (a touch of sarcasm here, a pinch of facetiousness there...). Once in a while, he will touch on something a bit more serious - but hopefully not too deep or depressing.

This blog is a product of DY Author & Speaker LLC. Feel free to quote content with attribution. Respond. Agree. Disagree. Share the content with your friends. Heck - even invite him as a speaker for your group! Enjoy!

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25 apr 2023

Love my mentors. I stay in touch with two of the three of mine. My high school basketball coach and I talk every four months or so. I still call him coach. We discovered a few years ago that he was just two years out of teachers college when we met, all of five years between us in age. He seemed ancient when I was his point guard and he was my coach. He was strict about two things - no smoking, no alcohol, no warnings, one offense - off the team for good. I never got the habit of smoking, for which I thank him. He taught us to play hard and to shake hands win or lose, and…

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