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Journalism professor writes his own touching obituary

An inspirational journalism professor wrote his own obituary before succumbing to cancer.

Barry Hollander, who taught at the University of Georgia, died aged 59 on Tuesday after a long battle with thyroid cancer.

But the respected, yet quirky, professor wasn’t about to let any old person write his obit.

In his own words: ‘Yes, I wrote my own obituary in advance. No one who knows me is surprised.’ 

Today, his local paper, Online Anthens, published Hollander’s touching obituary, where he discussed his long career, his illness, and – most tragically – leaving  family behind.

Barry Hollander (pictured) who taught at the University of Georgia, died aged 59 on Tuesday after a long battle with thyroid cancer

Pictured is the beloved professor's office door at the University of Georgia

Pictured is the beloved professor’s office door at the University of Georgia

It follows his life story, from his paper route in Lawrenceburg, Tennessee, to landing his first job at a small daily newspaper in Mississippi.

‘On my first day at that paper, having nothing else to do with no assignments yet, the editor gave me a pile of obits to write. Here I am, full circle, writing my own,’ he wrote.

He later moved to a daily paper in Louisiana where he met his wife, Edith, a fellow reporter.

Eventually, they both quit their jobs and enrolled in graduate school at the University of Florida, where Hollander discovered a love for academia.

In 1991, he took a job as an assistant professor at the Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication at UGA – a job he would remain in for the next 26 until his death.

During that time, he inspired thousands of students, many of whom have gone onto become journalists and editors themselves.

Today, his former students, current students, friends and colleagues have been leaving moving tributes to the professor.  

Students loved Hollander's quirky sense of humor and teaching style (pictured in a fun photoshoot)

Students loved Hollander’s quirky sense of humor and teaching style (pictured in a fun photoshoot)

Hollander with his daughter Erin (center) and his beloved wife Edith (right) 

Hollander with his daughter Erin (center) and his beloved wife Edith (right) 

Journalism professor at NYU, Dan Fagin‏, wrote: ‘When I was a cub reporter in the Florida boonies, I learned the most from my friend-for-life @barryhollander. I learned how to how to act like a reporter: sarcastic yet softhearted, reveling in exaltation of underdogs and exposure of hypocrites. Telling a dirty joke just right.’

Wes Blankenship, of 11Alive Nwes, wrote: ‘My thoughts and prayers are with the family of UGA journalism professor Barry Hollander, who has passed away. He encouraged myself and all of his students to become better people, and better journalists. Rest in peace, sir.’ 

Former student and journalist intern Maureen Sheeran added: ‘I’m so saddened to hear about the passing of @UGAGrady professor Barry Hollander. Rest in peace, @barryhollander. Thank you for the laughs, and thank you for all that you taught me about seeking truth.’

UGA Dean Charles Davis wrote, in an email to students, to inform them of the loss.

‘We know many of you think of Dr Hollander as a mentor and role model,’ he said in the email. ‘He was the consummate journalist and a great journalism teacher who taught the fundamentals of reporting to virtually every journalism, and public relations student at Grady for more than 20 years.

‘Dr Hollander loved being your professor. We know many of you are hurting.’

In his obituary, Hollander said he ‘never once regretted accepting the UGA job, though once or twice perhaps Grady did.’

‘I got to work with the very best faculty in the world, got to work with the very best students in the world, and got to live and raise a family in the very best town in the world,’ he continued. ‘I’m convinced Heaven, assuming I go there, looks a lot like Athens.’

Hollander, who revealed he was diagnosed with thyroid cancer several years ago, said that despite numerous different treatments, a rare genetic mutation meant he did not respond to typical treatment.

‘Even an expert can only do so much. Eventually the cancer won,’ he wrote.

He leaves behind his two children, Jacob, a geologist with Schnabel Engineering in Greensboro, North Carolina, and Erin, an MD/PhD student at UPenn in Philadelphia, and wife Edith, as well as his sister Deni Patton.

‘Send flowers if you like, as Edith loves them, but in my memory raise a good glass of bourbon or single-malt whisky,’ he continued.

‘In my memory, tell stories about me, especially the ones that make me sound like an idiot. In my memory, buy a young person a subscription to a good news source like The New York Times. And in my memory, watch out for Edith, the love of my life. I never deserved someone as good as her, and she doesn’t deserve this.’

His funeral will be held at Lord & Stephens funeral home in Athens, Georgia, on Thursday, February 1.


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