Professor, veteran journalist dies

Kaitlin Fleming, Editor in Chief

On August 15 the Jacksonville State University family lost a colleague and friend when retired journalist and Professor Emeritus Jerry Chandler died. 

Chandler’s career in journalism began in Anniston after returning from the Vietnam war, where he was a medic with the 101st Airborne Division, an assignment that led to him being awarded a Purple Heart. 

He began working in local radio at WDNG and then WHMA. He was news director for WHMA when he witnessed the aftermath of the Delta Airlines Flight 191 on August 2, 1985 at the Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport in Texas.

The tragedy and subsequent news stories led to sweeping changes in flight safety. Chandler’s experience led him to write “Fire and Rain,”which was a New York Times best-seller.

His work was featured on many aviation industry websites and magazines, including Frequent Flyer and Aircraft Maintenance Technology. Chandler’s work was also featured in The New York Times, The Financial Times of London and Time magazine.

Chandler was a guest on national media outlets, including NPR and CNN, and contributed to the PBS documentary, “Why Planes Crash”

After a long and successful career as a reporter, Chandler became a professor at JSU in 1987 where many of his students respected him and his feedback.

According to the obituary that was released, he was a humble and hard working man.

“His writing skills were matched only by his humility and work ethic. You would never find him resting on any laurels – just working on his next story,” read the online obituary.

Since his death, those who worked with Chandler at JSU and those who had him as a professor have shared stories and advice that he gave them.

Pamela Hill, a former student and colleague of Chandler’s said he was always “very supportive.”

“When I started as an undergrad in 1999 he was my advisor,” said Hill, a part time instructor for the Communication Department. “I had five undergraduate classes with him, he kind of was my favorite. He was so excited when he found out that I would be an adjunct here. He had a huge smile on his face and said he was glad I decided to give back to the department we both loved.”

Hill went on to say that Chandler never “spoon-fed” his students and always demanded the best they could do.

“You knew you better be prepared because he had a way of letting you know that he really wanted you to do your best work. He had a red pen that would bleed all over your projects. He would be very honest. He would tell you what you needed to do and expected you’d be able to fix it.”

Hill wasn’t the only former student who had fond memories of Chandler. Lauren Jackson Lee, a staff writer with the Hartselle Enquirer and former Chandler student said he taught her the importance of deadlines.

“One of my earliest memories with Mr. Chandler is attending the summer journalism institute in high school,” said Lee. “He jumped right into teaching and held a mock press conference then asked us to write a news article on it. Even though we were in high school he set the ‘deadline’ in an hour. After having completed the assignment I felt certain journalism was the correct career for me.” 

Lee also said that Chandler wanted his students to reach their “full potential.”

“Although I would say Mr. Chandler initially comes across as strict, he is someone that genuinely cared for his students,” said Lee. “Everything he did was for his students. His classes were sometimes challenging, but always rewarding in the end.”

Former student Jason Bozeman said he viewed Chandler as a friend and mentor.

“I watched the Super Bowl with him and his family every year for about five years,” said Bozeman. “It was such a special time every year, because I was always treated as a member of the family, even though I was a disgruntled Oakland Raiders fan.”

Bozeman said that Chandler was a “an incredibly important mentor to hundreds of students.”

“If I do anything good as a broadcaster, it is because he taught me how. I spent just as many hours in his office asking advice on how to run 92J [the college radio station], as I did in any class. And it always ended with him telling me how proud he was of me.”

2005 JSU graduate Julie-Anne Dentici said Chandler “pushed” her and “challenged” her with her writing and one time, when she received an “A” on a project he said it was “fine work” and that he knew she could do it. 

“Chandler wasn’t one to give compliments easily or freely,” said Dentici. “So, when he did give them, you knew that he meant it. I took him for several classes, but I think my favorite was Media Features.”

Mike Stedham, a communication professor and friend of Chandler’s said he was a man of “great religious faith” and that he had faith in “the power of journalism” to make society better.

 “He was a stickler for accuracy whenever he wrote a news story, and he insisted on accuracy in every class he taught here at JSU,” said Stedham. “He inspired his students, and he inspired me to be a better teacher every semester. He was the heart and soul of the Communication Department.”

Stedham and Hill weren’t the only colleagues that had kind things to say about Chandler. Associate Professor and Department Head of Communication Dr. Patrick McGrail said one of the first people he met when he came to JSU 11 years ago was Chandler.

“It was obvious he was held in high esteem by everyone, and yet he seemed like such a humble man,” said McGrail. “But I would hear students say, ‘I’ve got Mr. Chandler after this. Is he hard?’ And another student would say, ‘But you’ll learn so much.’ So I knew he was the real deal. Although I was an experienced professor at that time, I still came to regard Jerry Chandler as a mentor figure for me. He just knew students, his material, and the lay of the land. It was great. I even had a thorny question that had come up regarding television coverage of a certain military plane, and Jerry gave me his opinion and lots of info about it, and I realized that coverage of the plane was biased and wrong. It was obvious that I was in the presence of greatness.”

Chandler retired from teaching in 2017 and in June 2017,  he was honored with a Lifetime Achievement Award at the Aerospace Media Awards in Paris, France. 

A Funeral Mass will be held at 10 a.m. on Friday, August 23 at Sacred Heart of Jesus Catholic Church in Anniston. Burial with military honors will follow at Forestlawn Gardens. The family will receive friends at the church on Thursday evening from 5 – 7 p.m. followed by a prayer service at 7 p.m.

In lieu of flowers, the family requests that donations be made in Chandler’s honor to Sacred Heart of Jesus Catholic Church in Anniston, the Parkinson’s Foundation at parkinson.org or JSU’s Department of Communication.

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