When the dean announced at the faculty meeting Friday that Ferrel Guillory is going to retire from UNC-Chapel Hill’s Hussman School of Journalism and Media at the end of the year, everyone gasped. (Or, given that this occurred on Zoom and everyone was muted, it looked as if they gasped.) Then people flooded the chat with congratulations and quick comments about his legacy.
Ferrel is director of the Program on Public Life, which he founded in 1997, and a professor of the practice. He’s been a stalwart at the j-school and a strong voice for the importance of journalism.
I may be the only person on the faculty who was at the News & Observer when Ferrel was. (NO I wasn’t. Angelia Herrin was there; I forgot her. Sorry, Ange.) (Professor Andy Bechtel may be the only other.) I arrived at the N&O in 1979 as an education reporter; Ferrel was associate editor of the editorial pages, I think. About the only interactions I had with him was when he was preparing an editorial and he’d quiz me on a topic I’d written about. Editorial writers had a tendency to ask questions that made me wish I had asked those questions to my sources; Ferrel was no different.
But my Ferrel story isn’t about journalism or education. It’s about his kindness. I’ve told it before, when my mother died, but I like it so much that I’m going to revisit it.
Soon after my mother’s death, my sister Louise sent me a copy of a newsletter that announced a volunteer award my mother received in 1989. In that announcement was a photo of my mother with Ferrel. I knew that they knew each other, but I couldn’t remember the relationship. I wrote Ferrel about the newsletter. He expressed his condolences and wrote:
“I can’t overstate how much I admired her, and welcomed the opportunity to work with her during the years I spent on the board of Pan Lutheran Ministries. Just as she became a Protestant on the Catholic Social Ministries board, I became the Catholic on the Lutheran board, which is how I got to know your Mom and Dad. Remind me to tell you how we ‘conspired’ to put the issue of homelessness on the Raleigh city agenda during the mid- to late-80s.
“The Pan Lutheran board ended its meetings by singing the Doxology: ‘Praise God from whom as blessings flow…’ I sing it to myself to reflect from time to time. I’m singing it to myself now in memory of Margy, a real blessing to our community. ”
I’m going to miss Ferrel on the faculty, too. He told me he will continue with EdNC and “will be around.” Good. I need to get him to finally tell me the story about his conspiring with my mother on homelessness.