Wednesday, October 1, 2008

JJ Didn't Mince Words

Some of us work to put food on the table. Others work for inspiration. For some of us, it's a little of both.

Your Humble Scribe is fortunate to be in a line of work that is 800 parts perspiration & 1 part inspiration. OK, we may be exaggerating just a tad here, but if this dissertation makes the situation look like the job has gone to our Pretty Blond Head, we can only thank JJ.

Julia Jeffress Toiled in the Trenches of the Dallas Independent School District from the mid-'60s 'til the mid-'80s. We stumbled into her Journalism Program at Hillcrest High School almost Totally By Accident. And we've learned over the years that some Accidents aren't just Waiting to Happen; They're On Purpose.

To say that JJ demanded a lot would be to minimize the actual circumstances. No exaggeration buried in this Lone Star State Metaphor: She wrangled a herd of 14-18-year olds with a quiet voice and, at times, a disquieting manner.

JJ was an anachronism while remaining up-to-date on the latest Best Practices in Scholastic Journalism. She was deeply devout, socially conservative & politically, we imagined, quite a bit to the "right" of many of her Young Scribes. We say "imagined," because she never talked about herself. Her family, yes. Herself, no. But, as far as JJ was concerned, her views on things weren't the point. We wanted to Change the World; she wanted to Adjust our Attitudes so that we would always know to Do the Right Thing.

A quick story illustrates just the way JJ rolled. Lee Park, a lovely turn-of-the-last century green space sometimes known as Dallas' Front Lawn, was a gathering place Back in the Day for all sorts of folks. Located in the Turtle Creek neighborhood, Lee Park hosted some Pretty Ritzy Neighbors over the decades. Greer Garson, Mickey Mantle & Joey Heatherton (yes, Dallas has always been Home to Has Beens & Wannabes) lived in high-rises surrounding this lovely open space. But Lee Park also hosted a few, shall we say, Unsavory Types.

Faux Hippies, Hookers & Junkies inhabited the Lee Park acreage alongside Mrs. Miniver, the former Yankees Slugger & the Fading Sex Kitten. So the Dallas PD decided that Drastic Measures Were Needed. Indeed.

One Xmas Eve, the DPD set up a Drag Net around the park, and closed in quickly. They netted lots of Bad Guys, along with dozens of College Students, Young Republicans, Babies in Strollers, and more than one Grandmama.

What, do you ask, does all this have to do with High School Journalism? Well, we had a Wicked Cartoonist, named David, on the staff. He sketched out a Funny for our next edition. Something about Joseph & a Quite Noticeably Preggers Mary, in Full Hippie Regalia, standing before a Dallas Magistrate. Joseph & Mary even looked like they'd partaken in Forbidden Fruits, of the Herb Variety. David made it clear that the Heavenly Duo had been nabbed in the Lee Park Janx. The bubble above Joseph's head said something like, "We were just looking for an Inn, man!"

JJ said one word.

"No." Quiet. To the Point. The Law.

We didn't question twice. Frankly, we thought David had hit it out of the Proverbial Cartooning Ballpark. Amusing, urbane (We're not sure we even knew that term back then, but how much High School Humor, seriously, can be categorized as "urbane"?). JJ deemed the cartoon "inappropriate." We didn't argue with her. JJ was The Woman. It didn't matter that we disagreed.

The lesson here? David's cartoon probably would make it onto Today's Pages of The Student Newspaper at Our Humble High School. But that's not the point. One of the rules in the OHHS Journalism Code of Ethics (#16, to be exact) states: "We respect religion, nationality, race, creed and political beliefs." David wasn't trying to disparage Joseph & Mary. He wanted to peg the DPD for the patent ridiculousness of their Xmas Eve Dragnet. But JJ wanted to make a point, too. And she did just that.

That lesson remains with Your Intrepid Scribe, as she now Toils in the Trenches of Scholastic Journalism at Our Humble High School. As a Journalist--in High School or Otherwise--integrity is the most important ingredient. Without our integrity, the Chattering Class--whether on the Campaign Trail or on Fox Noise--will gain the upper hand. And that's not what Thomas Jefferson, our Third President, had in mind when he said, "...were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter."

JJ died of cancer in 1986. The hundreds of kids who served on Her Watch at Hillcrest High School all learned the same lesson. Don't sacrifice your integrity in an effort to communicate your opinion to others.


Mrs. Who said...

Mary Zerby at Freehold High School in New Jersey, was our yearbook coordinator. She encouraged me to write and published much of my writing in the school literary magazine, which she also ran. I think she would be proud to see my blog today. I hope so.

Hippie Family... said...

I really wish we had better writing classes when I was in HS.. It would have moved me in a different direction in my life I am sure. Yet, I love it still ..sigh...
I am living through you and your students now :D

Lynda said...

Wow - an amazing woman!

Dawn said...

That is a great story! Thanks for sharing!

Veggie Mom said...

What a wonderful story! I'm sure that JJ inspired you to be the great teacher you are today. And what a coincidence that you would grow up to be a journalism teacher, too. Or maybe not so much of a coincidence?

Anonymous said...

Came across your comments regarding Mrs J. When I saw it, it took my breathe away. There is not enough I can say to sing the praise of Judy Jeffress. She was my journalism teacher at Hillcrest High School. Infact, I was in the last class that had her for the entire school year before she passed away. Thank God for this true legend of a teacher. She touched thousands of lives. She did not mince words. When she walked into the classroom, you set a little straighter in your chair and when she spoke, you listened. However, she didn't have to say anything to demand your highest respect. When she spoke, it changed your life. Since 1985, she changed my true inspiration. I have spent the last 23 years in broadcast/print journalism, marketing and advertising because of her and my experience she afforded me on the Hurricane newspaper staff.

My deepest respect and gratitude to Julia Jeffress.

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Anonymous said...

I was the Hurricane photo editor in 1979 and I also have the greatest respect for and fondest memories of Mrs. Jeffress. Your story is interesting though because, while I find it to be entirely consistent with her character to respond with a quietly weighted "no" response, I can't envision a situation in which she intervened in editorial decisions. As I recall, all Hurricane editorial content was published at the sole discretion of the staff. I can only conclude from your story that Mrs. Jeffress said "no" when she was asked for advice; she did not intervene in the editorial decision process.

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Anonymous said...

Melissa, thanks so much for your post. I was another Hurricane photography editor in the 1960s. When my classmates reminisced decades later about our Hillcrest days, Mrs. Jeffress was an immediate memory. I think she was one of the few teachers who treated us like adults and cultivated our talents.

From my reading, it's evident she influenced many adult careers.


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