USF St. Petersburg Journalism and Media Studies Professor Bob Dardenne passed away Thursday night in his sleep. He was 66.
News of the much-loved professor's death spread through the community Friday afternoon. Dardenne taught at USF St. Petersburg's Journalism and Media Studies program for 22 years, serving twice as the program's director. He was due to retire next year. Thoughts go out to his wife Barbara O'Reilley and son Rob.
Sunday afternoon, current and former students gathered to toast Dardenne with an impromptu memorial of George Dickel bourbon served in plastic cups. Dardenne worked as a reporter and editor in Louisiana, New York, Washington, D.C., and Mexico City. As a teacher, he instilled fierce morals in his students about journalism's vital place in society. Furthermore, he knew how to encourage students to rise to their potential in the industry. He taught media theory and narrative journalism, among many other topics.
When students walked into his office, they were greeted (until recently) with this quote from Hunter S. Thompson:
“I hate to advocate drugs, alcohol, violence, or insanity to anyone, but they've always worked for me.”
Dardenne oversaw the Edward R. Murrow Program for Journalists, which brought journalists from various African countries to USF St. Petersburg for a week of in-depth discussions (and a baseball game or two).
Regularly, he'd argue the versatility of a journalism degree.
In 2011, after Governor Rick Scott said "we don't need a lot more anthropologists in the state. It's a great degree if people want to get it, but we don't need that here," I wrote Dardenne concerned about other liberal arts degree program funding.
"Narrow minds think of 'journalism' as print journalism and jobs in traditional journalism. Yes, a degree will help you achieve that, but I think these days that 'journalism' means 'opportunity.' Politicians are often behind in their thinking when it comes to education. We certainly need scientists, but we also need people who can organize and present information well and effectively. If they become journalists, all the better. But they can also write Scott's speeches, papers, memos, and reports. They can work in pretty much any business, do pretty much anything that has to do with communication. Come to think of it, the jobs governor, or any governor, can always use a little help in communication. And a good journalism degree with a motivated student returns good communication."
Friends, family, and students are invited to an official memorial on Wed., Oct. 23 at 3 p.m., inside the Peter Rudy Wallace Center for Teachers (corner of Sixth Avenue S. and Second Street S., in St. Petersburg).
Creative Loafing collected anecdotes from friends, colleagues, current and former students. We will add additional stories as they arrive.
Tony Silvia, professor with Dardenne at USF St. Petersburg and friend:
Bob loved stories, but he would insist on calling news “stories” articles. We would argue about the difference. I’d say “article” was something in a scientific journal; a story was something people would actually want to read. He’d laugh and say “but you can make up a story. You can’t make up news. At least you shouldn’t.” He had trumped me with the truth; the best I could hope for was a truce. I realized with Bob’s passing that he could out argue anyone, using his disarming humor along with his impeccable sense of logic. And in those rare moments when he couldn’t out argue you, there was always a nod that maybe just this one time your view was more on target than his own: “Maybe so,” he would say, in his Baton Rouge drawl.
I heard that voice so many times in the past few days. I heard it while reliving the time last December when he accompanied me to a picture framing shop where I picked up a print. An hour after it was paid for, Bob was still engaging the owner over a photo mural of an Antarctic landscape, wanting to know exactly how he had accomplished such wonderful work, enhancing that man’s life as he did.
I heard it while Bob expressed almost childlike joy over what he called “the best haircut” he ever received, courtesy of a Syrian barber, who threw in a free shampoo. He got more than a haircut and a shampoo; he left knowing the man’s life story and, I suspect, more about Syria than most members of Congress. At least once a week, he would tell me he was going to fly back up north to RI, to get another view of the Antarctic and get another great haircut. He delighted in the possibility, if not the probability, of doing so.
And I heard that voice in the emails between us that I reread the last few days, the ones where we were both home grading papers. “How far are you?” I asked. “About half way” was his reply. Me: “You’re half through already?” Bob: “Half through the bottle.” Me: “It’s only 1 o’clock, my friend.” Bob: “You’re right. It is kind of late. The sun has already been over the yardarm for an hour.” Those are stories. Bob Dardenne was the genuine article.
Paul Mena E., USF St. Petersburg graduate student alum:
I am Paul Mena E., a USFSP Journalism Graduate Alumni, and currently a regular contributor/stringer for BBC Mundo from Ecuador and a Journalism professor at Universidad San Francisco de Quito. I just want to say that Dr. Dardenne was a wonderful educator and a great man. I remember talking with him in his office several times while I was a Master's degree student at USFSP. "Keep up the good work," was the message that he sent me last July.
Matthew Parke, friend and master's program graduate:
I wish I could remember exactly the first thing Bob Dardenne said to me.
It was cutting and derisive, yet uttered in the most honeyed Spanish moss-draped fashion. Anyone who wasn't paying attention closely would think he was paying me a compliment.
The scene itself remains vivid: Bob and Mike Killenberg, eternal lunch buddies, eating together in a cramped corner of the Tavern at Bayboro, 2005. I was a new hire working my first shift and of course Bob found it necessary to haze the new blood. As I approached to clear their table, he stopped me and asked if I was the new guy.
Then he reared back, gave me that dead-eyed not-impressed glare, and then I go blank. What came out of his mouth was both a challenge and a supreme exclamation of disbelief. It was like that cliche scene in every college movie in which Professor So-and-So takes on the bright-eyed freshman protagonist and says the most perfectly professory thing followed by a non-diegetic The Price Is Right loser tuba blast.
Then he smiled that smile of his, (he must have noticed my confused but fake-happy Day One work face), and at once made me realize the severity or gravity of working at the Tavern. It was like some ritual sizing up of a person he would have to integrate into his lifestyle. I was the invader and the Tavern was his domain.
That's my first moment with Bob. Over the next five years, he would be my customer. He would always order the same shitty Smoking Loon red wine and feed upon the secret bar snacks we kept behind the counter. I can't even begin to compile a list of our conversation topics and my faulty memory wouldn't even do it justice. I'll just let it be and say that he would appreciate my Bartender's Discretion.
That was only half of our relationship.
He was my mentor, though I didn't seek one out or expected to have one. I didn't even know that USF St. Petersburg had a journalism program or that he was the head of the department. When things weirdly aligned and pointed toward a Master's degree in journalism, he was the impetus and guiding force of one of the best decisions in my life.
And his proximity to my school and my place of work meant that I couldn't get away with shit. Miss a class? He would know. Ducking his office hours because I'm procrastinating on a huge project? He would know. It was inevitable that he would bring this up at every opportunity he could.
And his strong friendship with my boss, Gavan, made me expect that he was privy to much more Inside baseball knowledge of my life that I'm not comfortable with my teachers knowing. It was like going to school where your dad was the principal. Instead of calling me out on this, it was his sly look of skeptical understanding that kept me on my toes.
Over the course of my graduate studies I only had one class with Bob and that was the mandatory Theory, my first class at USFSP. After that class I knew better than to take another one he taught. This isn't an indictment of his teaching methods, far from it. My best class would always be the one he had after class, when he would walk into a lonely and quiet Tavern on a Monday night, put his arms down on the bar and say with bombast.
"One of your finest, my good sir!" Or something to this effect.
He rarely repeated himself. That's what made him so damn interesting.
And I would pour him his glass of red wine.
And we would talk about everything but journalism.
Caitlin Reagan, master's program graduate and former graduate assistant to Dardenne:
I had the pleasure of being Dr. Dardenne's graduate assistant during my graduate career. Among the usual tasks of researching and teaching was an unspoken portion of my job description. Part of my job was to just sit in his office and talk for at minimum three hours each week. Occasionally, we discussed journalism, but mostly, we deviated from the topic. Topics ranged from retirement funds to the financing of porn websites to the delicate construction of baklava to the best happy hour specials in St. Pete.
Today, as a communications professional in Washington, DC, not a single day goes by that I don't practice what Dr. Dardenne preached. I keep my sentences clear and concise, with every word written deliberately. I avoid flowery language and instead stick to conversational English. I follow AP Style diligently, and try to hold my own boss to the same standards. I forgive when others make mistakes. And lastly, I listen to the opinions of others carefully. The skills that Dr. Dardenne taught me are invaluable. He will be missed greatly. I'm grateful and proud that I can carry pieces of him with me throughout my life and career.
Christopher Dorsey, master's program graduate:
We had a few few drinks at the TEDx reception and ended up being the last two people there. He told me about an ambitious book he was writing which sounded like it would become his "magnus opus," so to speak, but he didn't think anyone would want to read it. Maybe he was convinced that no matter what he wrote, the world was just too big to change in the direction he thought it should go. And that saddened him. I urged him to finish it anyway, because I selfishly wanted to read it, and because it might have unintended ripple effects that may just surprise him. I hope those notes or journals or manuscripts are found, and I hope we get to read his thoughts... even if the rest of the world is too big to change.
I saw him sitting alone on a bench on Beach Drive months after I graduated, staring at passersby. He was waiting to go up to a cocktail party in one of the condos, or so he claimed. We chatted for a good 15 minutes. I asked him how the book was coming along. "It's still in the works," he said. He was aching to retire, to move out west to the mountains, or perhaps the desert - somewhere without palm trees. That was the last time I saw him, the last time I spoke to him. Now, he can roam all over the country, the world even. Now, his atoms will find themselves floating across the highest mountains and drifting to the depths of the ocean, carrying ideas strung between charged particles. Now, he is free.