Walter Hussman's College Wake-Up Call

Walter Hussman's College Wake-Up Call
The bell tower at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill, North Carolina (Shutterstock)

Walter Hussman Jr. doesn’t want to spend his life playing golf in retirement any more than he wanted to as a young man.

The Wehco Media Inc. chairman is retiring at year’s end as publisher of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, and in reflecting on his future in a recent interview, he also delved deep into the past. He certainly enjoys 18 holes occasionally, but he said he found an ace in a professor’s advice more than 50 years ago when he was not exactly making a scholarly name for himself at the University of North Carolina.

“I was the returning social chairman [of his fraternity] and having a great time. … Anyway, this journalism professor, Walter Spearman, called me into his office and said, ‘You’re not really applying yourself very much; you’re not really working that hard here. But you shouldn’t worry. You can probably graduate and go back to Camden and work at your dad’s newspaper, play golf every day and hang out at the 19th hole. You’ll be set, and you won’t have to worry about it.’

“So I walked out of the office and I thought, wow, that’s a real wake-up call. That’s not what I want to do with my life.” Reverse psychology? “Absolutely,” Hussman said.

He got his degree at UNC, where the journalism school is now named for him, and collected an MBA at Columbia University before a long career leading the family’s newspaper, radio and cable TV chain. He was the main force behind buying the Arkansas Democrat in 1974 and he dedicated himself to its survival and profitability for the next 48 years.

He is leaving Wehco and the Democrat-Gazette in the hands of the next generation. Nephew Nat Lea is now CEO of Wehco, and daughter Eliza Hussman Gaines is likely to follow in her dad’s footsteps as Democrat-Gazette publisher. An announcement is expected soon.

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