Profile: Hall of Fame inductee Will Tubbs talks ‘hand of God’
Recent Graduate Student Hall of Fame inductee Will Tubbs has an acute memory for detail – he knows what the temperament of the day was 12 years prior and whether it was a Saturday, specifically because LSU was playing. He can account for the names of the nine parishes’ schools he covered at his time during Gannett, intricate relationships between persons in the territory and which team went 10 – 2 that year.
Tubbs has the mentality of an old- school journalist in a new technology- fueled media environment and the ability to effectively convey this knowledge to each student he teaches.
Tubbs grew up in the town of Erwinsville, La., which, according to him, is four buildings and a blinking yellow light located down Highway 190 in Baton Rouge Parish. Through various circumstances, the hand of God and a conversation in a grocery store, Tubbs found himself at the small but reputable Pineville Louisiana College as a journalism student. After graduating and moving from rural Louisiana ‘villes’ – Erwinsville, Leesville, Pinesville – to Hattiesburg, Tubbs created a legacy as a writer and teacher.
Tubbs said nothing he has ever done has not been without God’s divine hand.
“If you listen, God will tell you where to go,” Tubbs said. “I didn’t know what I was going to do, but I really wanted to teach. One day, it was the spring of 2013, and three people who didn’t know each other said I should get my Ph.D. and go to Southern Miss.
In 2015 USM’s Mass Communication and Journalism Department awarded Tubbs Graduate Student Teacher and Ph.D. Student of the Year. Tubbs has gained Graduate Student Teacher of the Year a second year in a row and currently holds the Robert Jean Wiggens Endowment. Unsurprisingly, the Graduate School honored Tubbs by inducting him into the Hall of Fame, along with 13 other graduate students, on April 3, 2017.
Like most high school students, Tubbs said he had no idea what he was good at or wanted to do for a career.
“I worked for my grandfather for cash,” Tubbs said. “I picked up hay and shoveled horse poop. I was pretty good at school and good in all subjects but didn’t know how to parlay that into a career. I was an avid reader, and my favorite author was Dave Berry – I wanted to be like Dave Berry. I knew what journalism was, but I didn’t know how to write a column.”
Tubbs said he went to Baton Rouge Community College briefly but took a semester off in the fall of 2001.
In the parking lot of Calvin’s Bocage grocery store, 19-year-old Tubbs’ life changed after a conversation with a roughly 70-year-old Roy Aguillard.
“I bagged his groceries,” Tubbs said. “I walked him to his car, and he asked if I was in college or played football. I said I’d never played football in my life, and he asked me where I went to college. I said I was looking at Mississippi College, and he said, ‘Well, don’t do that. We’ve got a perfectly good Baptist college.’ He said I needed to look into Louisiana College.”
Aguillard gave Tubbs’ number to his sister Joyce Brunade.
Tubbs said by the time he got home, his mom caught him by the door and said a woman was calling every five to 10 minutes asking for him. It was Brunade.
“She talked to me about Louisiana College,” Tubbs said.
He applied to Louisiana College that fall and by January 2002 was living in Pineville, La. to attend school.
Tubbs said after graduating college he started in small newspapers around Louisiana and later moved on to work for Gannett at the Alexandria Town Talk.
“I didn’t enjoy going to work,” Tubbs said. “But God had a plan.”
Alexandria Town Talk editor Randy Benson said he decided to hire Tubbs after seeing his work ethic.
“Will was working at the Leesville Daily Leader and just killed us in coverage,” Benson said. “We had an opening and knew we were going to hire a high school [sports] writer.”
Benson said it was a unanimous decision and knew that Tubbs was a solid writer.
“Will just cared about making himself better,” Benson said. “He always took responsibility for mistakes. I was really disappointed when he said he was leaving us to teach. Journalism needs dedicated people to write. We need old-school journalists with new-age skills, and Tubbs had that.”
Tubbs continued to pursue his education and received a master’s degree in interactive media at Quinnipiac University.
“I wanted to get my doctorate, but I didn’t have a clue what to do or how to do it,” Tubbs said.
Mass Communications and Journalism Department Director David Davies said Will was “absolutely deserving” of the recognition.
“He’s an absolutely terrific student and teacher, and I hear from students all the time how effective and approachable he is,” Davies said.
Davies said Tubbs was referred to him by a mutual colleague.
“I remember distinctly when he got in touch, and that was back in 2013,” Davies said.
At the time Tubbs considered graduate school in 2013, Davies was head of the honors college and played a significant role in convincing Tubbs to consider USM.
Tubbs said he and Davies talked over the phone, and Davies gave him advice.
“By the middle of May, I didn’t have a place to live, but I came over on faith,” Tubbs said. “By the time I got here in August, I had a place to stay and a job working in media relations for USM. I didn’t really like it, but Dr. Chris Campbell helped move me to teach MCJ 102 under the leadership of Maggie Williams.”
Davies said Tubbs has never met a stranger.
“He’s typically accepting of all of his students,” Davies said. “He strikes teachers as someone who is ready to learn – I could tell from the beginning. He’s a very caring individual. We knew when we got him, we would lose him.
Senior broadcast journalism major Julius Kizzee said Tubbs made him more aware of who he was as a writer.
“He’s made me more conscious of the messages that I teach people and how I can better broadcast the messages that I want to give out,” Kizzee said. “Not only is he a great mentor, but he’s also a great friend.”
Tubbs will graduate with a doctorate in mass communication with a focus in mass communication history in May and recently accepted a position as an assistant professor in the communications department at the University of West Florida in Pensacola. Tubbs will move with his wife of almost a year Mary Beth Patten Tubbs, his Pomeranian Scarlet and their cat Charlie. Tubbs successfully defended his dissertation which consisted of research on military based newspapers from 1941 – 1981 and how the content within the paper changed over that 40 year period.
Tubbs said writing is a life-time process and observing how much you can progress through a period of time is important.
“I’m not perfect, but the one thing I try to do is care,” Tubbs said. I try to be involved in students’ lives. I hope that they will appreciate the absolute acceptance of ethics and morality of journalism. You have to print the truth and report the truth to the best of your ability.”
With the best of his ability, the hand of God and a passion for teaching, Tubbs will leave USM and instill a new generation of journalists with a desire for the truth.