To the editor
Alumni recall ‘unparalleled’ professor
If I had remained in Florida journalism instead of hauling myself out to L.A., I might have heard Prof. Buddy Davis, JM 1948, MAMC 1952, died. Or I might have known earlier, without having to read it in the communigator, which might have put together a bit more on this great man.
I started as a PR major. I wanted to be a reporter but lacked the desire to do the required editing at the Gainesville Sun or take a course from Buddy Davis. What I heard was: He was a sadistic martinet who made students long for easier work in a combat rifle company. Finally, I had to take a seminar with the man, one of those collegial sitting-around-a-table classes in a godforsaken room under the Florida Field bleachers. The first thing I noticed was his size: The man who would soon be canonized by Pulitzer was short. Not that I have anything against short people, but I expected a Ben Bradlee type. And he wore a spit shined blue suit.
Then I discovered, from him no less, that he had little daily newspaper experience. But to this day and across long years I have never met a man who knew newspapers better or loved them more. And here’s the other thing: He was kind, funny and caring. Maybe I got him on a good year. Or maybe all those people who spoke of his ferocity and cruelty were just wrong. It wouldn’t be the first time.
I recently addressed a college class on racism in the bygone South. I talked about this Southern man I once knew, this Buddy Davis, and all he taught me about how racism once infected Florida papers, which often referred to a black woman as “the Johnson woman” or a black man by first name only, as if he wasn’t quite human.
Buddy Davis had outpaced his own time. I haven’t forgotten him, not for one week, not in all these years.
–John Bogert, JM 1971
News Columnist, The Daily Breeze, Los Angeles
Every survivor of Buddy Davis’ classroom has a favorite story and his photo in your fall issue revived a number for me. It should have come with sound. You can only appreciate his fullness of life when all your senses are engaged. I’ll never forget the devilish cackle your photo suggested.
I believed him when he said if I made it through his class, I could get a job in any newsroom. It carried us through the first days on the job. Once we realized we were green, we at least had a little traction and could hang on to fulfill his promise.
In the 1980s, I taught news writing at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. I tried to replicate Buddy. I didn’t have a “Great ZOT” stamp, or an overhead projector on which to embarrass every bumbling writer, but I did take a stab at his famous train wreck lab. By this time, there were few trains, and the rewrite desk was long gone, but the students got the idea.
Passing through Gainesville in the mid-1990s, I called to see if he was still kicking. What was I thinking? When I heard that cackle, I knew he was still raising hell. I told him he was my conscience through six months of work on investigative stories for the Charlotte Observer that brought a Pulitzer Prize for Public Service in 1981.
—Howard E. Covington Jr ., JM 1965
I enjoyed the fall communigator and am glad students and alumni still have the passion for the College! In regard to your article on Buddy Davis – it’s right on! Buddy instilled a sense of ethics unparalleled today. I was one to get “locked out” of the then-stadium classroom, but that only happened once ! I’ve been a quick learner ever since!
Buddy was quite a character – he said he was once approached by the Johnson administration for a role as speechwriter, which he turned down to teach. That was our fortune!
—Jill Cunningham Griffin, JM 1973, Bethel, Conn.
A teaser on the cover of the fall communigator read, “Buddy Davis remembered.” I quickly turned to that story, eager to read about one of UF’s greatest characters, and one of the best journalism instructors ever, only to find a couple of lackluster anecdotes that failed to capture the Davis persona.
The photo was true to form – the infectious laugh, the crinkles around his eyes, the devilish grin. But there was nothing about his famous money tree, which had $5, $10 and $20 bills. Journalism students who needed a few bucks could take a bill and repay if and when they could. The myth was he never lost a penny. The reality was, he wouldn’t have let anyone know if he had. Nor was there anything about how he’d stamp poorly written papers with the “Great ZOT” or imprint them his favorite: an onion! Or leave a wreath of thorns on your desk on the last drop day.
I doubt today’s journalism schools would tolerate someone who used his methodology. But those of us who went through those classes, who survived the great train wreck and didn’t get crucified by his red pen, remember him as someone who would read the rather bland story about him in the fall issue and stamp it with a big, “Great ZOT.”
—Tom Vickers, JM 1967, Daytona Beach