Remembering Mr. D

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Pick up a newspaper anywhere in Arkansas, and odds are decent that you will see part of the legacy of Dean Duncan.

Pick up this newspaper, and I can guarantee it.

Dean, a longtime journalism professor at the University of Central Arkansas, died Saturday. He was 90.

Dean (or Mr. D, as I called him) was at UCA for 23 years, from 1967 to 1990. Before that he worked as a reporter for the Arkansas Gazette, the Memphis Commercial Appeal and the Louisville Courier-Journal.

It was my honor to be one of Mr. D's students near the end of his career. In those 23 years at UCA, he trained dozens upon dozens of students in the key principles of journalism: accuracy, objectivity, fairness.

He also kept us entertained with his dry sense of humor and his unique personality. I remember Mr. D drove an old Volkswagen Rabbit when I was at UCA. It was always full of old papers in all kinds of disarray. If you've ever seen the cartoon "Shoe," the character always reminded me of Mr. D.

I learned lessons from Mr. D that I still apply today in my own reporting and in making editorial decisions. And I know it's the same way for the others who were blessed to be among his students. One of my old classmates said on Facebook that after 25 years as a professional journalist, he still hears Mr. D's voice in his head. So do I.

I'm here today because of Dean Duncan. In an indirect way, so is our talented reporter Samantha Jones. At Lyon College, Samantha worked on student publications under the direction of Bob Qualls. Bob, another former student of Mr. D's, was my editor in 1989 at the Baxter Bulletin in Mountain Home, my first full-time job as a journalist. I met Bob through the late Rick Joslin, who had been his classmate under Mr. D at UCA.

As a matter of fact, it was Rick who introduced me to Mr. D. I started writing sports stories for my high school newspaper during my junior year, truthfully because I was the only student in my journalism class who knew anything about sports. My teacher thought I had a knack for it and introduced me to Rick, who was then the editor at the weekly paper in Pine Bluff where we had our high school paper printed. Rick hired me to write a weekly sports roundup. I was paid 25 cents per column inch -- about $15 a week to fill half a page. Rick suggested that I go to UCA and study under Mr. D, and the rest is history.

Last November, I returned to UCA to attend a celebration for Mr. D's 90th birthday. It had been a few years since the last time I saw him, when a group of us had taken him to a minor league baseball game in Little Rock. At the birthday celebration, Mr. D was as sharp and witty as always and he seemed to enjoy being the center of attention as dozens of his former students shared their love and appreciation for his life's work. I am saddened by Mr. D's death but I'm glad we were able to share that day with him, so he could see for himself the impact he made.

Mr. D's legacy in journalism in Arkansas goes far beyond my small contribution. Among his students at UCA were notable journalists like John Brummett, Mike Masterson and Steve Barnes. Another former student, Sonny Rhodes, is now a journalism professor himself at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, passing the knowledge he gleaned from Mr. D on to the next generation of young journalists.

Mr. Duncan is an unsung giant of Arkansas journalism. Most people won't even know his name. But if you read this newspaper, you will be touched by his legacy.

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Scott Loftis is managing editor for Carroll County Newspapers. His email address is CarrollCountyNews@cox-internet.com