Remembering Wally Eberhard
Remembering Wally Eberhard
He was a self-professed lover of libraries, a master of journalism history and a dedicated professor who taught hundreds of Grady College students a craft to last throughout their lives.
Wallace B. “Wally” Eberhard, professor of journalism emeritus, died Oct. 7, 2018. He passed away on his 87th birthday.
“Grady College has lost one of its iconic faculty members, and I’m struggling to envision life without Wally in it,” said Charles Davis (MA ’89), dean of Grady College. “I am eternally indebted to him and will never think of him without smiling. His was a life well lived.”
“His was a life well lived.” — Charles Davis
Eberhard joined the Grady College faculty in 1970 as a temporary assistant professor, following several years as a reporter. He rose up the academic ranks, serving as full professor from 1984 until his retirement in 2000. Even after his retirement, Eberhard continued his involvement with Grady College by attending countless lectures and Homecoming tailgate celebrations, consulting with faculty and teaching. Most recently, he taught the Freshman Year Odyssey seminar, “A Short History of Long Journalism,” from 2011 until 2017.
In addition to teaching, Eberhard was involved with Grady organizations including serving as a Peabody Awards judge from 2007 to 2011 and again in 2013, and advising the student chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists during the 1980s, when it was known as Sigma Delta Chi.
Davis and Eberhard knew each other for nearly 30 years, first meeting when Davis was a graduate student at Grady College and Eberhard took him under his wing. “He remained a constant, positive presence in my life. For many Grady students, he and Conrad Fink served as equal parts mentor and friend. Never, ever too busy to take a call or break away for lunch, Wally took such familial pride in us as our careers took shape. He always knew where we were and what we were up to, serving as a Grady social network long before Facebook or Twitter.”
The study of journalism history held a special place in Eberhard’s life. He was editor of the American Journalism Historian’s Association refereed journal, “American Journalism,” for four years, and received the association’s highest honor, the Sidney Kobre Award for Lifetime Achievement in Journalism History, in 2007. He initiated Grady College’s first graduate seminar on media history and guided the work of many graduate students in this area.
John English, Grady professor of journalism emeritus, had a friendship with Eberhard that spanned nearly 50 years and went back to their time as graduate students at the University of Wisconsin where they originally met because their last names started with the letter “E.” Their friendship continued to their days teaching at Grady College where their offices were next door to one another.
In addition to his sense of humor, English found a lot of reasons to be fond of Eberhard.
“Wally Eberhard was an exemplar of old-school journalism,” English said, remembering his friend. “As a former journalist himself, he taught a generation of Georgia journalism students the fundamentals of reporting and editing, professional ethics and press law and media history. While modest in demeanor, he held rigorous academic standards.”
One of these students was author Steve Oney (ABJ ’79). During a lecture in 2017 discussing his most recent book, “A Man’s World,” Oney reflected on how Eberhard helped him become a better writer.
In his comment, Oney credited Eberhard with helping him “become a more rigorous thinker and better reporter and a more honest human being, and training me in the virtues of making my work add up. You have to be creative and you have to be imaginative, but you can’t take any fliers if you are writing journalism. It has to add up. It’s about a factual presentation of the world.”
According to English, Eberhard’s journalistic ethos also informed his retirement years. He sought more transparency in government, especially with public funds, and he was a model citizen in action, serving on the local library board for 20 years.
“Our friendship across the aisle endured a half century because, while we differed and disagreed, we never argued or got angry,” English said. “That’s old school, too.”
English continued: “During lunch recently, Eberhard and I discussed the current attacks on the press. Later that day he wrote this indelible statement: ‘The press may be threatened, but it always has been—quite rightfully—criticized. Imperfect though it may be, without a free press there is no working democracy. Getting the public to understand and agree with that is an ongoing challenge.’”
Like Davis and Oney, Keith Herndon (ABJ ’82), the William S. Morris Chair in News Strategy and Management at Grady College, had a relationship with Eberhard that dated back to his days as an undergraduate student during the early 1980s. Eberhard served as an instructor, advisor and friend to Herndon, which even included Eberhard giving the young Herndon a ride from Indianapolis to Athens, Georgia, following an internship.
When Herndon was president of Sigma Delta Chi, he worked closely with Eberhard, who advised the student group.
“He helped us with speakers and organized a conference trip to D.C. He used that organization to take us beyond the classroom, and looking back on those years now, you realize how incredibly supportive he was,” Herndon said. “He was always in my corner and always available for mentoring and advice.”
“He was always in my corner and always available for mentoring and advice.” — Keith Herndon
As the years unfolded, Herndon valued his many lunches with Eberhard. “He had a keen appreciation for the news media and its history. Every lunch with him was a media history lesson, but he had an uncanny way of tying history to the present day,” Herndon said. “I always left those lunches with some new insight to contemplate. He never stopped being my professor.”
Tom Russell was dean of Grady College for several years that Eberhard taught.
“With both an academic and professional background, Wally brought a unique perspective to the Journalism Department,” Russell said. “He came to Grady during a period of rapid change in journalism education and he was a valuable contributor in revamping the curriculum, including a move to the semester system. I know that he will be remembered not only by his faculty colleagues, but by the hundreds of students he influenced.”
For other remembrances of Wally Eberhard, please visit:
RIP, Professor Wally, I will miss you (Macon Telegraph), by Ed Grisamore (ABJ ’78)
Remembering Prof. Wally Eberhard (Flagpole magazine), by John English