Grady College lost another member of its family with the death of Albert L. “Al” Hester on April 11, 2019. Hester was a journalism professor from 1972 to 1997, and the founder and first director of what is now known as the James M. Cox Jr. Center for International Mass Communication Training and Research.
While at Grady College, he also served as sequence and head of the Department of Journalism.
“Dr. Hester was a Grady icon,” said Charles Davis, dean of Grady College. “I recall fondly many interactions with him during my days as a graduate student, in which he took time to get to know me and offer advice. That was his great strength: the willingness to connect with each of us individually. One of journalism education’s first true global scholars, he left an indelible impression on the college.”
Tudor Vlad, the current director of the Cox Center, said Hester’s vision for the Center when it was started in 1985 was ground-breaking: “Even today, the Center remains the only unit in a U.S. mass communication school that focuses entirely on supporting freedom of speech and independent media around the world. Dr. Hester had the extraordinary vision of the global political and economic changes and of the role of journalism in reshaping and fostering emerging democracies.”
International travel and workshops were an important part of Hester’s work. He wrote and published the “Handbook for Third World Journalists” with support from the United States Information Agency in Tunisia, and he conducted writing and editing workshops in Nigeria, Zambia, Lesotho and Malta early in the Center’s existence. Later his focus was on workshops in eastern and central European countries.
According to “Centennial: A History of the Henry W. Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of Georgia” by former Grady College dean, E. Culpepper Clark, the creation of the Center was the result of an increased focus of international studies and research in the mid-1980s.
“His global reach was truly phenomenal, his connections through USIA and the Soros Foundation, among other outreach entities, even more so,” Clark wrote about Hester in the 2015 book. “For the Center’s first twelve years, he gave it and Grady the most prominent position in international outreach of any university in the nation, a position it maintains.”
Leara Rhodes, an associate professor of journalism, considers Hester not just a former colleague, but a friend-colleague, and an instrumental reason why she came to Grady College. Rhodes said he was a collaborator in generating ideas and clarifying issues with his board of advisors, and he will be remembered for fellowships that he granted to graduate students for their work overseas.
“Al was a nurturer, he truly believed that by involving students and faculty in the center, then everyone would benefit,” Rhodes said.
Prior to joining Grady College, Hester served as city editor of the Dallas Times-Herald, where he worked at for 11 years, including the day that President John F. Kennedy was shot in Dallas. He earned his master’s degree and Ph.D. from Wisconsin.
He remained active in the Athens, Georgia, community following his retirement, writing books about Athens history and the Civil War.
He is survived by his wife, Conoly, a daughter and a son.