Charles Davis taught at the Missouri School of Journalism for more than a decade but recently moved to his hometown of Athens, Ga., after being named dean of the University of Georgia's journalism school. The Missouri Tigers football team plays on the road Saturday against the Georgia Bulldogs.
“That sinuous southern life, that oblique and slow and complicated old beauty, that warm thick air and blood warm sea, that place of mists and languor and fragrant richness ...”
— Anne Rivers Siddons, "Colony"
If you entered my faculty office during my 14 years at Mizzou — or my tenure at Southern Methodist in Dallas, or at Georgia Southern University before that — you would find a painted concrete bulldog, "Uga," sitting on my floor, greeting visitors along with framed prints of the stadium at the University of Georgia, more UGA pics and an Athens, Ga., montage.
I was that hopelessly devoted to my hometown and my graduate alma mater, Athens and the University of Georgia, a love affair born of all things southern, a pride in place that grew fiercely every year I was away from it. I tried, as best I could, to acclimate, to embrace the Midwestern niceties, and I think I pulled it off nicely.
It was easy, because Columbia is as close as it gets to Athens in that part of the country. The people are wonderful, and Mizzou became our home as we worked, raised kids and cheered on the Tigers. Then, suddenly, and seemingly without warning, came a bolt out of the blue: the opportunity to go home again.
Take an Athens boy, send him here and there for 25-odd years, then through a fascinating confluence of timing and opportunity, name him the next dean of the Henry W. Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of Georgia, and that old maxim about never going home again is put to a serious test.
Nearly three months ago, I began the next chapter of my life in a job that challenges me every second to grow as a person and as an academic. I have never had a learning curve so steep, yet the work is joyous and the days a blur of new people, new programs and baffling acronyms and academic jargon, as I tackle a new lexicon. It’s all so new, yet so familiar. Everywhere there are memories: streets I roamed as a child, as a teen, as a graduate student. Faces I recognize pop up in the most unlikely places, and high school reunions occur in the grocery aisle with such frequency that my 15-year-old daughter sighs and then braces for the inevitable stories.
At the end of the day, it’s the stories that bring me back to the Athens of my youth and to the Columbia of a huge chunk of my adulthood. The collective memory of place, once exclusively reserved for Athens, now includes a host of Columbia nostalgia as well. That is the most pleasant surprise of this life-altering move. Columbia, Mizzou and the Tiger Nation sneaked into my heart and now generate the same heartfelt affection I once thought only Athens and the University of Georgia could produce. How fortunate we were to call both places home.
So yes, the old Bulldog is home, among the people who shaped me, at the institution I love more than can be adequately expressed. It may be trite to say that I am here in large part thanks to Columbia and to Mizzou, but it’s true. So I may not be a True Son of Ol' Mizzou any longer, but the J-School is as dear to me as sweet tea and grits, and that, people, is saying something. Save me some Shakespeare’s, and maybe a Booches burger, and I’ll promise to visit.
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