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GEORGE KENNEDY: Eliot Battle, Roger Mitchell, Brady Deaton: Three men whose work speaks for itself

Friday, June 14, 2013 | 6:00 a.m. CDT

COLUMBIA — I’ve spent most of my working life around journalists and politicians, so I don’t have a lot of experience with quiet, modest people who let their good work speak for itself.

We’ve recently lost two gentlemen who fit that description. A third has just announced his retirement. Let’s take a few minutes to celebrate their contributions.

Thursday’s Missourian carried a collection of eloquent tributes to Eliot Battle. In the public eye, he was overshadowed for most of his life by the remarkable woman who was his wife. It was she who earned a doctorate and became Columbia’s first female associate superintendent of schools. Our new high school carries Muriel Battle’s name.

But as the Missourian reminded us, the Battles were a team as they integrated schools and neighborhoods and touched the lives of generations of students. He quietly counseled as guidance director, assistant to the president of Columbia College, author and founder of the Minority Men’s Network. His doctorate from MU was honorary.

Any father could only hope to have a daughter say of him what Donna Battle Pierce told a reporter about hers: “My dad set the example for how people should live their lives.”

When Roger Mitchell’s four daughters stood before the packed sanctuary in the downtown Methodist Church at Wednesday’s memorial service, they could have said the same. Instead, each read selections from the Bible. Roger had chosen those verses, just as he had planned the rest of the service.

His 15 years as a dean at MU may have been the professional peak of his career, but the hours he devoted to volunteering at the Food Bank seemed just as satisfying. He was usually the first to introduce himself to newcomers to the volunteer room. Then he’d proceed to interview them while saying little of his own accomplishments. Of course, he took on a leadership role there, too, serving for years on the board of directors.

Brady Deaton announced his retirement as the university’s chancellor Wednesday morning. That afternoon, when he spoke at the service for Roger, he didn’t mention that. Self aggrandizement isn’t his style.

I’ve worked for six chancellors. Brady is – perhaps second to Richard Wallace – the most soft spoken. All of those chancellors have had an uphill struggle against the gravitational forces of inadequate budgets, unsympathetic legislatures and increasing demands. Several have left in defeat.

Brady remains relentlessly upbeat to the last. “MU is a jewel for the state, a valuable asset with luster that elevates the quality and reputation of Missouri,” he declaimed in his emailed announcement. His time as chancellor has been “a pure joy,” he added.

I find that a little hard to believe, but I have no doubt he meant it. The expression could have been uttered by Roger or Eliot just as plausibly. Along with their genuine modesty, it’s the ability to find joy in roles that most of us would find burdensome that makes these three men so memorable.

A cynical friend suggests that Brady’s retirement may have been forced on him. Nov. 15 does seem an unusual point in the academic calendar. But he’ll be 71 by then, and nine years in his job look to me like enough for the most dedicated administrator. Of his predecessors, only Barbara Uehling lasted that long.

The cliche has it that nice guys finish last. The lives of these three nice guys prove the contrary.

George Kennedy is a former managing editor at the Missourian and professor emeritus at the Missouri School of Journalism.


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