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UGA’s Grady College names Distinguished Alumni Award winners

UGA's Grady College names Distinguished Alumni Award winners

Athens, Ga. – Four University of Georgia alumni with notable achievements in newspaper management, academia, reporting/editing, and broadcasting have been named winners of the 2010 Distinguished Alumni Awards by the Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication.

W.H. “Dink” NeSmith Jr. (ABJ ’70), Carol J. Pardun (Ph.D. ’92), Justin Gillis (ABJ ’82), and Lynnsey Gardner (ABJ ’06) will be honored in a special ceremony at Grady’s Spring Convocation Friday, May 7, at 1 p.m. at the Athens Classic Center. A private awards dinner will be hosted by Grady College Dean E. Cully Clark and the Grady Society Alumni Board.

Nesmith, of Athens, will be honored with the John Holliman Jr. Award for Lifetime Achievement, while Pardun, of Columbia, S.C., will receive the Distinguished Alumni Scholar Award. Gillis, from New York City, will receive the Henry W. Grady Award for Mid-Career Achievement, while Augusta’s Gardner will receive the Dean John E. Drewry Award for Young Alumni Achievement.

“These exceptional individuals demonstrate how Grady alumni carry the banner of achievement in journalism and mass communication forward into their professions,” said Clark. “They and the alumni they represent are extremely valuable resources to the college. Their character, careers and service to the field teach and inspire.”

Holliman Award winner Dink NeSmith, 61, is a Wayne County native who has had a distinguished career in newspaper management. At the age of 10, he was already laying the groundwork for his life’s work. “When the 3 p.m. bell rang at Orange Street Elementary School, I would jump on my bike and race seven blocks to the back door of The Jesup Sentinel,” he recalled. There he would buy a stack of the weekly newspapers for a nickel each.Then, pedaling as fast as he could, he rushed to meet the shift change at the Sea Island Shirt Factory.As the ladies left work, he turned his nickels into dimes before the ink dried on the latest edition of the local news.

At UGA, NeSmith majored in advertising and public relations. At age 24, he borrowed $3,000 to make a down payment on a one-third interest in Jesup’s competing newspaper, the upstart Wayne CountyPress.Four years later, he joined Community Newspapers, Inc. in the purchase and consolidation of the two weekly newspapers to form the twice-weekly, The Press-Sentinel.

Today, NeSmith is co-owner and president of Athens-based Community Newspapers, Inc., and publisher of several dozen newspapers in Georgia, Florida and North Carolina.

He is past president of the Georgia Press Association, Leadership Georgia and UGA’s Alumni Association.He also has served as chairman of Grady’s advisory board, president of the college’s alumni association, and chairman of the board of directors of the Fanning Leadership Institute.He is chairman of the Richard B. Russell Foundation, an emeritus member of the UGA Athletic Association’s board of directors and an emeritus trustee of the University of Georgia Foundation.

In 2008, Gov. Sonny Perdue appointed NeSmith to the University System of Georgia’s Board of Regents, representing the 10th Congressional District.He is a member of the Commission for a New Georgia, a past chairman of the Georgia Telecommunications Commission and a past member of Georgia’s Judicial Qualifications Commission.

Currently, he serves on the board of directors of Athens First Bank and Trust Company, Southern Mutual Insurance Company, Pattillo Construction Company and the Georgia chapter of The Nature Conservancy.

NeSmith and his wife, Pam, a 1971 UGA graduate, have three children: Alan, a CNI Northeast Georgia regional publisher in Cornelia; Emily N. Wilson, of Senoia; and Eric, publisher of The Highlanderin Highlands, N.C. 

Grady College’s 2010 Distinguished Alumni Scholar Award will go to Carol J. Pardun, director and professor of the School of Journalism and Mass Communications and associate dean of the College of Mass Communications and Information Studies at the University of South Carolina.

The award honors an alumnus for excellence and sustained contributions to scholarship in journalism and mass communication education.

Pardun, 53, is also the current president of the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication, the world’s largest group of journalism and mass communication educators with over 3,700 members.

She has published research in the Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media, Pediatrics, Newspaper Research Journal, Public Relations Review and elsewhere. Much of her recent research has developed from her work as co-investigator of the Teen Media project, a $2.6 million National Institutes of Health grant awarded during 2001-2006.

The former editor of Mass Communication & Society, Pardun currently sits on the editorial boards of many journals in the field of communications. Her book, Advertising and Society: Controversies and Consequences, was published in 2009 by Blackwell-Wiley.

Before South Carolina, Pardun held faculty or administrative positions at Middle Tennessee State University, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and Kansas State University. In addition to her doctorate from the Grady College, she holds a master’s degree in communications and an undergraduate degree in English literature from Wheaton College in Illinois.

The Henry W. Grady Award for Mid-Career Achievement will be awarded to Justin Gillis, 50, of New York City. Gillis grew up near Vidalia and graduated from high school in Mt. Vernon in 1978. While a UGA student, he worked at The Red and Black newspaper, serving as a reporter and in virtually every news-editing position.

After graduating with a newspapers major, he worked a short stint at the Associated Press in Atlanta and in Montgomery, Ala., then worked at The Miami Herald, where he was a reporter and editor for 12 years. He covered a series of government and investigative beats there and, in 1989, he and a colleague were finalists for the Pulitzer Prize “for their investigation of financial wrongdoing by a popular county manager–reporting which was conducted in the face of strong local opposition and which ultimately led to the official’s resignation.”

He joined The Washington Post in 1995 and spent a decade as a business and science reporter at that paper, focusing on the new science of genomics and its commercial prospects. He was a Knight Fellow in Science Journalism in 2004-2005, studying biology, energy, environment and other topics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and at Harvard University, after which he traveled around the world to see sites that had come up in his studies.

The Post made him its economics editor in 2006. Not long afterward, he was recruited to The New York Times, joining the paper in 2007 as an editor specializing in energy coverage, among other topics. This spring he switched back to reporting yet again, becoming the lead writer on global warming and other environmental topics for The New York Times.

Lynnsey Gardner, 25, will receive the John E. Drewry Award for Young Alumni Achievement. Gardner anchors News 12 This Morning weekdays on Augusta’s WRDW-TV. She joinedthe News 12 teamin June of 2006 as a multimedia journalist. She was promoted to weekend anchor/senior reporter before making the switch to the morning desk.

Gardner was named “Best Anchor/Reporter” by the Georgia Associated Press in 2008. Her investigative journalism was recognized with a regional Edward R. Murrow Award for Investigative Reporting for her exclusive series on Dent’s Undertaking Establishment, a local funeral home accused of mishandling money, abusing a body and misplacing ashes. Thanks to her ongoing investigation, illegal practices were exposed and the funeral home has since been shut down, while facing bankruptcy. The same investigation also was given top honors by the Georgia Associated Press and the Georgia Association of Broadcastersin 2008 for “Best Investigative Reporting.”

Her exclusive series on a pirate radio station illegally operating in Augusta won an honorable mention by the Georgia Associated Pressfor “Best Series Reporting.” During her time at News 12, Gardner also exclusively reported on the largest marijuana bust in Georgia history, and she had an exclusive interview with Tomi Rae Brown and James Brown II at the Godfather of Soul’s statue in downtown Augusta, just hours after the singer’s death on Christmas Day 2006.

In February 2009, Gardner was interviewed for a BBC documentary as a reporter who helped break the now international story of Betty Neumar, a woman arrested in Augusta and later accused of being a “black widow” across the United States. 

Born in Dallas, Gardner was raised in Birmingham, Ala. and Grayson, Ga. The summa cum laude 2006 UGA graduate majored in broadcast news and minored in political science. While a student, she worked as a reporter, photojournalist, anchor and producer for NewSource 15, the student-produced local newscast broadcast from the Grady College. Gardner also was a member ofUGA’s DiGamma Kappa broadcasting society andthe Pi Beta Phi sorority.

Established in 1915, the Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication offers undergraduate majors in advertising, broadcast news, magazines, newspapers, public relations, publication management and telecommunication arts. The college offers two graduate degrees, and is home to WNEG-TV, the Knight Chair in Health and Medical Journalism and the Peabody Awards, internationally recognized as one of the most prestigious prizes for excellence in electronic media. For more information, see or follow Grady on Twitter at