Avuncular: Resembling an uncle; friendly, helpful. – Collins English Dictionary
Some of the best teachers are part-time actors.
Dick Lee knew the value of theater in the classroom.
When he taught media law at South Dakota State University, he donned a wig and period cloak before launching into the importance of the John Peter Zenger case, recalled Lyle Olson, head of the SDSU journalism department.
Zenger, a German immigrant, printed the New York Weekly Journal in 1734, which criticized the acts of the corrupt governor of New York. Zenger stood trial for his reports, and he was defended by Andrew Hamilton (no relation to Alexander), who based his defense on the truth of the stories. The jury acquitted Zenger, setting a groundbreaking precedent for newspapers to report on government corruption without fear of retribution.
I don’t know if his students would have been quite as energized about the First Amendment without the theatrics, but Dick’s deep knowledge of his subject and the conversion of his classroom into a stage was a surefire combination for success.
Dick, who passed away Nov. 10 in Brookings, was former head of the journalism department at SDSU. He arrived there in 1978 when I was managing editor of this newspaper. Getting to know him was my good fortune because he was one of the best journalists, and men, that I ever knew.
He knew his craft and he knew people. His avuncular manner allowed him to form relationships with those from all walks, including some who distrusted the media.
He was well educated, with a doctorate degree in mass communications. He came from a newspaper family. He had practical experience to bolster his academic credentials, working on weekly and daily newspapers, including the Washington Star.
Two years ago at the state newspaper convention we talked at length about the challenges that newspapers faced, and reporters, too. While the First Amendment protects everyone’s right to free speech and not just the media’s, there were times, increasingly, when that freedom was under attack. Dick could passionately discuss the First Amendment and professional ethics in a classroom and objectively apply them to working journalists. He recognized the human frailties in politicians, reporters and editors and knew no one had a corner on honesty. But he knew, as well, that without journalists, the dark side of government and politics would eventually corrupt the system, ruining democracy for all.
Dick also will be remembered for his ceaseless work to make sure all had access to journalism as a career, particularly American Indian students.
For me, he was a shining example of what a journalist should be.
Nov. 28, 2018