Former Journalism Professor dies, leaves mark on University

Lou Hodges remembered for contribution to curriculum

Madeleine Haight

The Washington and Lee community voiced the loss of an influential professor whose distinctive teaching methods and broad interests expanded the vision of his department.

Louis Wendell Hodges, the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation Professor of Journalism Ethics Emeritus from 1997 to 2003, passed away Feb. 8, 2016 at the age of 83, due to complications of a severe head injury he received in a fall six years ago.

Hodges taught religion and ethics at W&L for 43 years and was the founding Knight Ethics Professor Emeritus. He was born on Jan. 24, 1933, in Eupora, Mississippi. He obtained a B.A. in history from Millsaps College in 1954, and a B.D. and Ph.D. in theological studies from the Duke Divinity School at Duke University. Hodges began teaching religion classes at W&L in 1960, and eventually founded the Society and the Professions Program, which brought nationally renowned speakers to campus to discuss the application of ethics to a wide variety of academic interests.

As an advisor to both the University Fellowship of Christian Concern and the University Christian Association, Hodges proposed to have Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. to lead a seminar on Christian ideals on campus in 1961, which was rejected by the Board of Trustees.

Hodges’ other professional involvements included the Association for Education in Journalism, the Society of Professional Journalists, the American Society of Christian Ethics, and Investigative Reporters and Editors.

Ruscio praised Hodges for his contributions to the W&L community and his ability to embody the honorable values that are so important to this university.

“With his thoughtful and visionary incorporation of ethics into all aspects of our liberal arts curriculum, Lou embodied principles and values that we hold dear at W&L,” Ruscio said. “He made a lasting impact that we will uphold and build upon for years to come.”

Current Knight Professor in Journalism Ethics Aly Colón said Hodges influenced his own position as a professor of journalism ethics. Hodges’ backgrounds in ethics, religion and philosophy gave him valuable perspectives in the world of journalism, particularly with the students at W&L, according to Professor Colón. Upon graduation, majors within the Journalism and Mass Communications Department are now required to complete a class in ethics.

Colón said ethics is too often perceived as an esoteric subject, but Hodges brought the subject into the journalism department in a manner that helped journalism students begin to appreciate challenges that they may face, and help them to apply ethical theories in a practical way.

Harlan Beckley, the Fletcher Otey Thomas Professor of Religion Emeritus, delivered a tribute at Hodges’ funeral.

“We remember with gratitude Lou’s devotion to his family of more than sixty years and to us who were his colleagues and friends. We celebrate his willingness to take risks, assert himself for a cause, and innovate, even when it was not in his narrow self-interest,” Beckley said. “May we all learn from this example. Lou will be missed, but his contributions to our lives live on.”

Hodges is survived by his wife Helen Davis Hodges; his sons, John David Hodges (and his wife, Linda, and her children) and George Kenneth Hodges (and his wife, Nina, and their daughter, Christine); his seven great-grandchildren; and his four great-great-grandchildren.