OPINION | WOODY BASSETT: Jordan earns accolades as one of the “greatest”

Why this Jordan rates among the ‘greatest?’

Gerald Jordan, a true gentleman with a perpetual smile, has earned the respect of the many who have crossed paths with him. His journey through life is to be admired. A Black man who grew up in the Jim Crow South, Jordan went on to attain great heights as a journalist and university professor.

While deserving of it, Jordan is not a person who seeks attention or covets public recognition for himself or his achievements. I know him well enough to surmise had he known in advance I was writing this, he would have tried to talk me out of it.

After successful and distinguished careers as a consummate newspaperman and a beloved educator, Jordan will soon retire from the University of Arkansas. For the past 27 years, he has had a meaningful impact on the lives of a lot of people at the university, especially those of the young.

A proud graduate of the University of Arkansas in 1970, Jordan embarked on a career in the newspaper business, working 25 years as an excellent writer and valued journalist for major metropolitan daily newspapers.

The late and great Roy Reed, following a brilliant and celebrated career as a news reporter for The New York Times, taught journalism at the University of Arkansas for 16 years. Nearing his own retirement in the mid-1990's, Reed, a native Arkansan, recruited and encouraged Jordan to join the university's journalism faculty, telling him "it was time to come home," just as he had.

To the good fortune of all, Jordan decided to return to Fayetteville, arriving in 1995 to teach journalism at the U of A's flagship campus. Not content to take summers off while teaching, he continued to work during the summer months as an editor for The Philadelphia Inquirer for the next 15 years.

From day one as a professor, Jordan's years of real-world experience and acquired knowledge as an accomplished newspaperman have enriched the minds of his students, helping to mold them into future journalists by teaching them the fundamentals of good journalism--news reporting, editing, clear writing, accuracy, timeliness, research, interviewing, the importance of credibility and much more.

In addition to teaching, Jordan has done other important work on campus. He has been actively involved for years in diversity efforts, working with university leaders to recruit, retain and support talented Black and other minority students, faculty and staff. He co-founded the Lemke Journalism Project, which over the past 21 years has brought hundreds of students from underrepresented communities to campus for journalism training. He was the first African-American to serve as president of the Arkansas Alumni Association Board of Directors and for a number of years he has served as the university's faculty athletics representative to the NCAA and the Southeastern Conference.

Last week the University of Arkansas School of Journalism and Strategic Media and The Lemke Journalism Alumni Society hosted a retirement event for Professor Jordan at which he was honored and praised by colleagues and former students for his life's work as a teacher and journalist. Fittingly, the gathering to pay tribute to Jordan was this year's edition of the Roy Reed Lecture Series, created by friends of Reed when he retired in 1994.

Love and laughter filled the large room as stories were told, each of them affirming how much Jordan has meant to so many. Expressing their gratitude to him for the knowledge he imparted and for being a difference-maker in their lives, former students beautifully shared their heartfelt feelings about Professor Jordan and how he opened doors for them. The students described Jordan as a mentor, role model and friend. One former student, now a successful journalist, remembered the time Jordan inspired him with these words: "You have ink in your blood."

Published comments from three of Jordan's students are representative of the kind of teacher he has been:

"He is not only extremely intelligent ... but also kind, caring and motivational. He wants you to succeed and gives you the tools to do so. He is one of those teachers I'll remember forever because of his positive impact on my life."

"He is hilarious and so encouraging. He will make you a better writer and passionate for journalism."

"One of the greatest professors I've ever had. Truly, the U of A is so lucky to have this dude."

Upon his well-earned retirement, students, faculty and staff on the Fayetteville campus will miss the daily presence of Professor Jordan's leadership, teaching and collegiality. Moreover, they will miss his everyday warmth, cheerfulness and robust sense of humor.

It's a genuine privilege to be able to call Gerald Jordan a friend. The world would be a better place if there were more people just like him.

Best wishes, Gerald. Now you will have plenty of time to work on your golf game. Enjoy it and remember that golf is not a game of perfect.

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