Hoyt Purvis, Professor and Founder of International Studies, Remembered

Professor Hoyt Purvis
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Professor Hoyt Purvis

Hoyt Purvis, a professor emeritus of journalism, political science and international studies who transformed international education on the U of A campus, died May 26, 2023. He taught for 34 years at the U of A, where he founded the international studies program and created the Fulbright Institute of International Relations.

"It is impossible for me to describe how much professor Hoyt Purvis meant to our faculty and students in the School of Journalism and Strategic Media when he was teaching,'' said professor Larry Foley, outgoing chair of the school. "He was a gifted teacher and scholar with an inexhaustible dedication to public service. Hoyt was a friend and mentor to me and thousands more out there just like me. In faculty meetings, when he spoke, everyone got quiet and listened. He commanded that much respect."

GROWING UP IN ARKANSAS

Purvis was born Nov. 7, 1939, at Jonesboro, Arkansas, the son of Hoyt Somervell Purvis and Jane Hughes Purvis. During his high school years, he earned the rank of Eagle Scout and also became the chief scout for bands and singers to perform at the Jonesboro dances, leading to a meeting with Johnny Cash, who was just starting to have some national success.

Cash was playing a show at the town of Bono, and Purvis and a friend went to try to talk him into playing Jonesboro. Cash invited them to jump in his black Cadillac to talk things over. Before they knew it, the driver had taken them to Memphis and deposited them downtown with no easy way to get home. Things for the dance worked out: the replacement that Purvis found was a singer named Roy Orbison.

Years later, Foley described an extensive search in various archives to find a photo of Orbison for a student who was producing a documentary film in the journalism school, but the search had come up dry. Purvis walked by with cardboard box full of stuff. Foley glibly asked, "Hey, Hoyt, got a picture of Roy Orbison in that box?"

Purvis replied, "As a matter of fact, I believe I do." He pulled a black-and-white glossy 8x10 from the box.

That was a luckier find than it even sounds. Purvis had dozens of boxes full of stuff in his office, shelves with hundreds of books, stacks of newspapers and piles of graded papers overflowing every nook and corner. If there were method in the organization, Purvis alone knew the secret code and the location of the Roy Orbison photo.

And the TV.

Somewhere beneath one pile, a television was found when Purvis began cleaning out the office. An apocryphal myth sprang up that Purvis' TV was still turned on when found.

The overflowing office took on a new status when Purvis announced that he planned to retire. "When he retired and had to move out of his office, it was like a crisis," Patsy Watkins, then-chair of the then-Journalism Department, told the Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.

Slowly, piece by piece, Purvis worked on clearing out the office for two years but had to speed things up because a renovation of the building was scheduled. Watkins said, "Hoyt was beloved. I didn't want to tell him in two days, the wrecking ball is coming down."

INTERNATIONAL AFFAIRS

Purvis earned bachelor's and master's degrees at the University of Texas, Austin, in 1961 and 1963, respectively, and served as a sports editor and then editor of The Daily Texan. He participated in two international exchange programs, one that took him to Chile and a second that introduced him to France, both of which led him to believe in the value of international exchange as a means of building mutual understanding among nations.

After post-graduate studies at Vanderbilt University, two years working as a reporter for the Houston Chronicle and more than two years living in Nairobi, Kenya, and Brussels, Belgium, Purvis returned to the states and began working as press secretary and special assistant to U.S. Sen. J. William Fulbright in 1967.

He assisted Fulbright in his responsibilities as a member of the boards of the Smithsonian Institution and the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, and worked on legislation to establish the Buffalo National River.

After Fulbright lost re-election in 1974, Purvis returned to Texas, where he served as director of publications and lecturer at the LBJ School of Public Affairs and worked on the presidential campaign of Jimmy Carter in 1976. He returned to Washington as a foreign and defense policy advisor to Senate Majority Leader Robert Byrd and as deputy staff director for the Senate Democratic Policy Committee from 1977-80.

He briefly returned to the LBJ School of Public Affairs before being encouraged by Fulbright to come to the U of A to serve as the founding director of the Fulbright Institute of International Relations. The institute offered a center for study, research and analysis of foreign policy and international relations. Purvis brought in top speakers to an annual conference, including Ted Turner, whose fledgling Cable News Network had just launched as the nation's first 24-hour news channel. Purvis served in that role for 18 years while teaching journalism and political science and establishing the university's degree program in international relations, now referred to as international and global studies.

President Bill Clinton, who had been a colleague in Sen. Fulbright's office, appointed Purvis to the Fulbright Foreign Scholarship Board in 1993. He served on the board for 10 years, including three as chair. In 2001, Purvis was in Washington for one of the board's meetings when word came that a plane had crashed into the Pentagon. The board meeting was canceled, and Purvis left the safety of the building to cross the Capitol mall to look out across the Potomac at the burning building. The commercial passenger jet that hit the Pentagon was one of four that crashed during a coordinated terrorist attack on 9/11.

TEACHING AT THE U OF A

Purvis also distinguished himself as a professor and researcher during his tenure at the U of A.

He collaborated on several books on international relations and the media, including:

  • Legislating Foreign Policy, with Steven Baker (1984)
  • Interdependence: Old Myths and New Realities in United States-Soviet Relations, with Donald Kelley (1990)
  • An Introduction to International Relations (1992)
  • Seoul and Washington: New Governments, New Leadership, New Objectives, with Yu-Nam Kim (1993)
  • The Media, Politics, and Government (2000)
  • Media Issues and Trends: A Mass Communication Reader (2005)

He said the most fun he had writing a book, though, returned him to his roots as a sports writer. His Voices of the Razorbacks: A History of Arkansas' Iconic Sports Broadcasters, written with Stanley Sharp in 2013, took a fond look back at the people whose live reporting on the radio airwaves kept him and all of Arkansas informed about the Razorbacks' exuberant wins and tragic losses.

Purvis was an avid sports fan, particularly baseball, and hosted a local television program in Fayetteville called Talkin' Baseball. It was not uncommon to see him toting a stack of newspapers, wearing a baseball cap from his enormous collection and watching a sporting event.

He also appeared regularly on the show Arkansas Week, broadcast by the Arkansas Educational Television Network, and provided political commentary for KNWA. He also wrote an opinion column for the Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette and its predecessors over a 20-year period.

He was honored multiple times at the university for his teaching, including being awarded the Fulbright College Master Teacher Award, the Arkansas Alumni Association Faculty Distinguished Achievement Award for Research and Teaching, the Honors College Distinguished Faculty Award and the Faculty Gold Medal for mentoring. In 2016, the Graduate School and International Education established the Hoyt Purvis Award for Service in International Education to honor Purvis and his contributions to the field of international education.

Additionally, Purvis was a member of the International Studies Association, the American Political Science Association and the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication. Locally, he also served on the Washington County Historical Society's board and chaired the board from 2011 to 2013.

Perhaps the only honor that eluded him was the opportunity to play the TV game show Jeopardy! Foley said, "He had a date to appear on Jeopardy!, and probably would have won, but somehow word got back to Sen. Fulbright, and he wouldn't let him go. The senator didn't want his staffer off gallivanting in California on game shows."

Purvis shared more of his adventures during interviews with the David and Barbara Pryor Center for Arkansas Oral and Visual History, which can be viewed online.

CELEBRATION OF LIFE

Hoyt Purvis is survived by his wife, Mary Purvis, senior director of development for the U of A's Fay Jones School of Architecture and Design; daughters Pamela Hatcher and Camille Purvis Dawson; a sister, Peggy Mullen; four grandchildren; and several nieces and nephews.

The family plans to host a celebration of Purvis's life at 5 p.m. Friday, Aug. 4, in Giffels Auditorium of Old Main on the U of A campus.

In lieu of flowers, donations may be made in honor of his commitment to education and international exchange to either the U of A, where a memorial fund is being established in the Fulbright College (contributions may be sent to Gift Administration, Suite 210, 1125 W. Maple St., Fayetteville, AR 72701) or the Fulbright Association (Fulbright.org | Donate or make checks payable to The Fulbright Association, 1730 Rhode Island Ave. NW, Suite 404, Washington, D.C. 20036)

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