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 Texas : Features : Columns : All Things Historical

A Journalist's Hero

by Bob Bowman
Bob Bowman

Journalists are by nature a cynical lot. And because they've seen humanity at its worst, they have few heroes.

One of them died in Tyler last month.

Dr. Blanche Prejean, who instilled in thousands of aspiring journalists a love of words, was 92. She served as the former chairman of Tyler Junior College's Department of Journalism, and the first woman to earn a journalism doctorate from the University of Texas.

Along the way, she taught her students how to construct sentences, how to develop an awareness of what constitutes news, and how to earn a journalist's job.

A native of Paris, Texas, she came to the Tyler campus in 1952 from a sawmill high school in Angelina County.

The only qualifications she had in teaching journalism was the experience she picked up while teaching Diboll high school students English and how to create a student newspaper and a yearbook.

At Tyler Junior College, which had just moved to a new campus on Fifth Street, she developed one of the best college journalism departments in Texas.

The University of Texas tried on several occasions to lure her to Austin, but she and her husband Buck, who coached Tyler High School's Lions to a state championship, had found a permanent home in East Texas.

Blanche's students came to Tyler because she was acknowledged as the best writing teacher in East Texas. Many of them came from small-town schools in East Texas and if they needed financial help, she located jobs for them in Tyler. If they wanted to pursue their education after two years on the TJC campus, she found scholarships.

Her students became some of the best journalists in Texas. Some graduated to editorships, some became public relations practitioners, some became newspaper and magazine publishers, and some became book authors.

Few of them forgot Blanche and what she taught them. But her death went largely unreported beyond Tyler, and only a handful of her students were present for the funeral.

Whether a student wanted to be a newspaper reporter, a television journalist, a magazine editor, or a novelist, she had the same advice.

"Whatever you want to be, always write so that even a person without a high school education can understand you," she said.

She also had another piece of advice: "The first line you write must make the reader want to read more." That, she said, is "the lead of your story."

Years later, one of her former students wrote a novel about a Texas lawman. Reminded of Blanche's advice, he began his novel with: "My mother was a whore."


All Things Historical
MARCH 11-17, 2001
A syndicated column in over 40 East Texas newspapers
Published by permission.

(Bob Bowman, a former president of the East Texas Historical Association, is the author of 24 books on East Texas history and folklore. He lives in Lufkin.)
 
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