A Magazine by the Society of Professional Journalists

McKerral earns Wells Key, SPJ’s highest honor

By Quill

Las Vegas was a fitting place for the 2005 SPJ Convention and National Journalism Conference, which also happened to be Gordon “Mac” McKerral’s last year as a member of the Society’s board of directors.

For his dedication and service to SPJ, McKerral was awarded the Society’s highest honor for members, the Wells Memorial Key award.

McKerral, who received the award Oct. 18 during the convention, has served on the national board for 13 of the last 15 years.

“Anybody who can put up with all of us for 15 years deserves some kind of award,” said organization President David E. Carlson.

Despite McKerral’s long service, Carlson predicted that McKerral never saw the honor coming. While everyone probably hopes to win the Wells Key award, Carlson said he didn’t think McKerral would presume he’d receive it because he sees himself as outspoken. It was a fact that Past President Irwin Gratz made note of in his speech.

“Because of his self-appointed role as a contrarian, there probably are few people in this room who consider themselves less likely to win,” Gratz said.

McKerral makes his opinion known, always, and he doesn’t do it subtly. It’s that outspokenness that sets him apart, Gratz said.

“This is a man who in debate throws 100-mile-per-hour fastballs, but he doesn’t throw junk – no curves, no sliders, no knuckleballs – just the straight stuff,” Gratz said.

McKerral now will throw fastballs at board meetings of the Sigma Delta Chi Foundation.

In addition to making his opinion known, McKerral has been known to play devil’s advocate to ensure proper contemplation.

“He has on occasion taken a preposterous position that he knew was preposterous just to make people think,” Carlson said.

McKerral began his career as a fourth-grade history teacher but soon gave up teaching to pursue a graduate degree in journalism. He spent 10 years in the journalism department at Troy State University where he drilled his students on ethics and helped them become storytellers. Not only was he the 2003-04 SPJ National President, he has also served as a campus adviser at large, vice president for campus chapter affairs and chapter doctor on the Society’s national board of directors.

“Mac has been a giant presence in the Society,” Gratz said. “Like many great journalists, he was a productive skeptic and made sure our board and officers asked all the right questions.”

“If Mac were asked his regrets, he’d probably say he regrets never marrying and having kids, or that he wishes he hadn’t spent so much time at the horse track, or that he should have paid more attention to his finances. I don’t think he’d ever say he regrets being a journalist,” said Robyn Eoff, one of the people who nominated McKerral for the award.

The Wells Memorial Key was first presented in 1913. The award was named in honor of Chester Wells, Sigma Delta Chi’s second national president. Wells died in office in 1913 at the age of 26. Wells’ brief time in office was marked by an inspiring dedication to the work and ideals of Sigma Delta Chi. After his death, members decided to award a jeweled key each year in his memory to a member who had performed meritorious service to the Society.

Working Press reporter Joshua Rinaldi of the University of Cincinnati contributed to this story.