The following is one installment of a series recognizing alumni and friends who will be honored at the 2023 Grady Salutes celebration on April 28, 2023. For more details, please see our posts about our Fellowship honorees, Alumni Award recipients and Dean’s Medalist.
Congratulations to Susan Percy (ABJ ’66) who has been named to this year’s class of Grady Fellowship inductees.
Percy is a journalist based in Atlanta and although she is now retired, she spent several years at Georgia Trend Magazine, serving 12 years as executive editor and editor and eight years as editor-at-large. She wrote an award-winning monthly opinion column for more than 20 years and remains a regular contributor.
Her work has been honored by the Society of Professional Journalists, the Alliance of Area Business Publications, the Atlanta Press Club, and the Magazine Association of the Southeast. She was inducted into the MAGS Hall of Fame in 2008 for her contributions to magazine journalism.
Prior to Georgia Trend, she spent eight years at Atlanta Magazine as senior editor and managing editor and worked a brief time as managing editor of Arthritis Today. She has worked for newspapers in Louisiana and California, and her freelance work has appeared in numerous publications including USA Today, The Reader’s Digest and Georgia Magazine.
Percy has served on the Grady Alumni Board, and is a member of the Atlanta Press Club and the Emory University Ethics Center Media Advisory Council.
She was married to the late author Paul Hemphill who served as a Grady Journalist-in-Residence in the early 1970s. She lives in Decatur, conveniently close to her daughter, Martha Hemphill Barbieri, son-in-law, and two grandchildren.
Some of Percy’s writing can be found on her website.
Following are excerpts from an interview with Percy which have been minimally edited for length and clarity.
Grady College: What experience at Grady College did the most to prepare you for your career?
Susan Percy: The whole package. The combination of classes and professors and opportunities, including working on the Red & Black, which was under Grady’s auspices when I was there, but is an independent publication now. I learned how to be a journalist, and even though the profession has changed in ways I could never have imagined, the basic writing, reporting, and interviewing skills I developed and refined taught me to think like a journalist and provided the foundation for accommodating and adapting to the changes—and, in many cases, welcoming them.
When I started college, the conventional wisdom was that young women, whatever their course of study, should get a teaching certificate, “just in case,” even if you weren’t interested in being a teacher. But I never heard that at Grady. I was treated as a serious journalist from Day One and encouraged and supported in my choice of a profession.
GC: What advice do you have for today’s Grady College students?
SP: Take advantage of everything that is here. You may never again have such ready access to so many opportunities—publications, labs, technology, innovative projects, mentorships, internships, and dedicated faculty members and fellow students to advise and support you.
Embrace the diversity and inclusion that is now part of Grady and will continue to be; it is enriching the offerings and areas of study available to you as well as the journalism profession itself.
Take a risk. Try something that intimidates you a little and draw on all the people who are ready to help you.
GC: What would you tell your 20-year-old self?
SP: Breathe. Benefit from and learn from all your professional experiences, but try to take the long view, as well. Throughout your career, you will have some disappointments and setbacks. That’s part of it. Even your dream job will have some tough days, but don’t give up and don’t doubt yourself. If you need to make a change, in your job or your career trajectory or even the way you approach your work, do it thoughtfully and gracefully.
GC: What does this recognition mean to you?
SP: It is the most significant—and surprising—professional honor I have ever had.
I have been a working journalist, with a couple of brief detours, for more than 50 years; and I am happy to say I am not done yet. I am still working. I have had an interesting and varied career, with ups and downs and some successes. But I am not a big name. I’ve never won a Pulitzer. I’ve never owned a publication or a media company. I’ve always answered to someone else.
I think there are a lot of working journalists like me—we work hard, but we don’t call all the shots. We care about what we are doing. We do it with dedication and resolve and integrity; we believe our work is important. Yet there are times when we wonder if it matters, if anyone notices. This recognition from Grady tells me that it does matter, that people notice the effort that so many journalists make. That every fact you triple-check, every word choice you agonize over, every extra effort you make is important. And it does count.
I am very grateful to Grady College for this honor.
GC: What motivates you?
SP: I’ve reached the age where I should probably be knitting afghans or baking cookies for my grandchildren, but I value the opportunity to continue to do the work I love—at a slower pace, perhaps.
I believe the work of journalists and communicators is more important than ever. The changes that have come to our profession have been both challenging and exciting; but the work we do is crucial. And it is so important for us to do it well, to use all the resources we have to communicate with accuracy, honesty, intelligence, and integrity. And to enjoy doing it.
Tickets to Grady Salutes: Celebrating Achievement, Leadership and Commitment on April 28, 2023, are available for purchase. Register here.