Defining Moments

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Terry Biehl Van Nortwick, B.S. Journalism 1970; MAMC 1977

Terry Van Nortwick

I had just transferred from that other state university in Tallahassee, looking for a better male/female ratio and a chance to experience the college party life I had heard so much about.

While there I “majored” in psychology, sociology, English and even accounting (a five-hour “C” helped motivate me to transfer to UF).

When I enrolled in the College of Journalism, Charlie Wellborn was teaching the Introduction to Mass Media class. I knew I had met a kindred spirit when I took his class. I soon enrolled in his Typography class and Business and Technical Journalism – the magazine journalism class that was legendary for requiring a 100-hour magazine project. Charlie, or Colonel Wellborn as we called him then, became the defining person in my college career.

I devoured his every word and became engrossed in the public relations curriculum. When I whizzed through the magazine project and saw Col. Wellborn use my project as the model, I knew I had found my passion and career.

Public relations became my perfect place. I was able to delve into fascinating topics, meet people in all walks of life and write, create and persuade.

After graduation, every job brought challenges. As public relations director for a state agriculture association, I was tasked with presenting the organization’s anti-Equal Rights Amendment position to newspaper editors throughout the state– while being adamantly in favor of equal rights for women. I ran an engineering firm’s publications and promotion department in the middle of the gas crisis in the mid-70s, as revenues dipped and layoffs became an everyday occurrence.

Finally, as I turned the ripe old age of 30, I opened my own public relations business in Gainesville – with no money and no business plan in a “free” office in my husband’s electrical contracting warehouse. Charlie Wellborn was still a friend and one of my biggest cheerleaders in the new venture. Somehow I made it work, despite being one of the first woman public relations entrepreneurs in North Florida. During the next 35 years, I helped promote and communicate about organizations large and small, in a myriad of different fields. I taught journalism and public relations classes at UF, volunteered on numerous community boards and committees and became active in political and human rights issues. It was never boring.

When I was honored as an Alumna of Distinction by the J School in 2009, my only regret was that Charlie wasn’t there to see it. He would have been cheering me on just as he had when I was his student back in 1968.

Editor’s Note: Since retiring in 2013, Terry has continued her passion for travel. She has visited 122 countries and all seven continents and still has a list of another 30 countries she wants to visit.

Posted: June 3, 2016
Category: Alumni News
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