I do not know if you believe that such things comes in “threes.” But, days after I thought about the loss of musical icons I admired, I learned about the up-close-and-personal death of my good friend and colleague, Evonne Whitmore. She was a journalism educator who taught at Kent State, and from the article posted online by the Kent State student newspaper, she will be sorely missed.
But, I already knew that. When the news came over a listserv I manage for one of the groups in our professional organization, AEJMC, it hit me squarely in the gut.
Von, as we called her, was one of those women who was truly a force of nature. Calm on the outside with a perpetual air of sophistication, she had an amazing smile and a rolling laugh when she was tickled about something. I remember the times we had meals together at conferences and business meetings—one especially nice seafood lunch, as I recall. Like me, Von was a “returning student” who decided to go back to school and pursue her doctorate after living multiple other lives as wife, mom, working woman, community service volunteer, especially through her AKA sorority. She had begun an electronic portfolio of her accomplishments, which is awe-inspiring to peruse. This website, like her life, is prematurely interrupted, with links that remain unfilled.
A little more than a year ago, I learned from her that she had ovarian cancer. She found out about her illness, she said, while she was overseas on a Fulbright fellowship, one of the most prestigious academic honors one can acquire. She said a chance viewing of a news story about the disease and its symptoms caught her attention. Her husband, who was with her, helped her connect those fearsome dots, which she later confirmed through medical examinations and tests. Still, a year ago, even while she endured intensive treatments, she made it a point to come to AEJMC, continue with her leadership posts, and encourage others. Her skin was darkened by radiation, and her smile was just a little more tentative. But the Von’s spirit was still very much intact.
The impact of her legacy was nicely described by another colleague, George Daniels, in his blog, so I won’t dwell on the details here. There are scholarships and other tributes being established, and Von deserves every bit of this attention and more.
There are some rare people who devote so much time in service to others that many may wonder how they did it, or even why. I believe Von’s DNA impelled her to make a difference.
She may never get a statue, or a street named in her honor. But, the words of praise, the scholarship, and the mighty influence she had on students’ lives will mark their own trails.
If you have had a Von in your life, consider yourself lucky. If he or she is still with us, maybe you have a few words of tribute of your own you would like to share.