Whitney Ervin, Features Editor
Buffy Lockette fell in love with Jacksonville State University the first time she ever visited the campus. She was in 9th grade at Ohatchee High School, and had been chosen to compete on her school’s math team. She accepted the opportunity despite, by her own admission, being bad at math. During lunch, she walked to the city square and had lunch at Roma’s Pizza with a friend, and said she felt like a grown-up. It was a fun experience that stuck with her.
“From the first time I came to campus, I felt safe here,” Lockette told The Chanticleer in an interview at Merrill Hall. “People talk about JSU being the friendliest campus in the South, and I think what that meant for me was that nobody was pretentious. Nobody made me feel like as a first-generation college student from a blue-collar family that I wasn’t good enough.”
Lockette was born in Boaz, Alabama and lived there until she was 8 years old. She moved around quite a bit, including a couple years in Michigan and Lincoln, Alabama, before settling in Ohatchee. Her mother was a cleaning lady and her step-father worked as a machinist.
When she was in high school, she worked hard but wasn’t sure about college. She got a scholarship at Harry M. Ayers State Technical College, which was consolidated with Gadsden State Community College in 2003. She planned to study computers, and hopefully figure the whole college thing out. Before Lockette was set to start she received a phone call from her high school counselor with information about a recruitment program through JSU, and going to her dream school became a reality.
Lockette majored in communications because as a senior in high school she was required to read The Anniston Star everyday in her government class and she always did very well in her English classes.
“I’m reading it every day, and I’m like ‘I could do this. I could write as well as this.’” Lockette said.
Jerry Chandler, a communications professor who worked at JSU for 30 years until his death in 2019, advised his students to make sure they worked to establish thorough writing portfolios. Lockette took this advice to heart and threw herself into volunteering and gaining as much experience as she could. She was interested in other concentrations besides journalism, so in addition to volunteering for The Chanticleer, Lockette also volunteered as a DJ for WLJS. She enjoyed doing both but felt The Chanticleer was her niche. She was the managing editor of The Chanticleer during her sophomore year. She worked through college, doing mostly internships and freelance writing.
“I actually ended up getting an internship at the office I now lead. Which is what was then called news bureau and is now called strategic communications.”
It was during this time she also met Tim Lockette. Tim Lockette was also planning to become a journalist. In 2000, Tim got an opportunity to work for The Gainesville Sun in Gainesville, Florida, and asked Buffy to marry him and move to Gainesville. Lockette accepted despite not being finished with her degree because she couldn’t imagine spending a year away from Tim. She was still sad about leaving JSU, but her decision was met with support from the people she talked to on campus. On one of her final days at JSU, Lockette spoke with Janet Smart who worked in the English department. Smart helped give Lockette clarity about her decision to go to Florida.
“I told her I wanted to work here, that I wanted to be the PR director,” Lockette said. “She was basically like ‘you can always come back. You need to go out into the world and learn some things to bring back.’”
Lockette transferred to the University of Florida where she completed her bachelor’s degree in women’s studies and she worked for the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences as their spokesperson and editor of publications. She learned a different side of academia, with UF being a more research-oriented college and JSU being more teaching-oriented. She loved UF and the experience she had there, but still held a lot of affection for JSU.
“I basically PR-ed for JSU the whole time I was there,” Lockette said. “I used to tell them that the people they were giving ‘Professor the Year’ awards to were like basic faculty at JSU.”
In 2008, they decided to move back to Alabama to be closer to their family. The Lockette family moved to Montgomery. She first worked for the city of Montgomery with the Landmarks Foundation for a year and a half until she found a job in higher education.
“I have to do something in the non-profit or public sector because I have to feel like I’m making a difference. Specifically, I really believe in the transformational power of higher education,” Lockette said.
Lockette began working at Auburn University at Montgomery as the Manager of External Communications. She also received her masters in communications from AUM.
In 2014, Patty Hobbs retired from her position as the Director of Public Relations at JSU. As soon as the position was open, Lockette knew she had to try for it. Every step she’d taken in her career was in pursuit of making her way back to JSU for this exact position.
“I was in it to win it,” she said. “I really wanted to do it and I was really blessed to get this opportunity.”
Lockette has been back home since 2014, leading the office she worked at for two years during her time as a student. In 2021, she had her transcript reviewed and discovered she was only missing one credit from having her bachelors in communications from JSU. So, she took a geography lab and now 20 years later has her JSU degree.
“Whether it’s a student doing their first tour who just knows this is where they need to be or it’s an alum reflecting on their time here, the word everyone uses is home.”