Auburn University's 11th annual Journalism Awards to honor distinguished journalists with Alabama ties

Published: August 17, 2015
Updated: August 20, 2015
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In its 11th year of honoring outstanding journalists with ties to Alabama, the Auburn University Journalism Advisory Council will recognize five distinguished professionals at its luncheon Sept. 11. The luncheon will be at The Hotel at Auburn University and Dixon Conference Center at 11:30 a.m. Tickets are $50 and may be ordered at www.bitly.com/journalismawards.

H. Brandt "Brandy" Ayers, one of Alabama's most influential newspapermen, has been chosen to receive the council's highest award, the Roy Bain Distinguished Special Achievement in Journalism Award, named in memory of a former publisher of the St. Petersburg (Fla.) Times. Bain, a Tuscaloosa resident who died in 2013, was an Auburn journalism graduate who co-founded the school's Advisory Council and created its annual awards program in 2005.

Ayers, the longtime publisher of The Anniston Star, will be honored along with four other journalists: Buddy Davidson, a key member of the Auburn Athletics Department for more than a half-century and winner of the Distinguished Auburn University Alumnus Award; Bruce McLellan of The Decatur Daily, winner of the Distinguished Alabama Community Journalist Award; longtime radio host and newspaper columnist Bob Sanders of Auburn, winner of the Distinguished Mass Media Award; and Paul South of Pace, Florida, a versatile journalist who worked at the Daily Mountain Eagle in Jasper and newspapers in four other southern states, winner of the Distinguished Community Sports Journalist Award.

Ayers has been the publisher of The Anniston Star since 1971, succeeding his late father, Harry Mell Ayers. The younger Ayers still uses a quote from his father on The Star's editorial page: "A newspaper should be the attorney for the most defenseless among its subscribers."

Brandy Ayers' columns from Anniston have been published in such major newspapers as The New York Times, Philadelphia Enquirer and Washington Post. He also has authored several books, including a recent memoir, "In Love with Defeat: The Making of a Southern Liberal." During the peak of the turbulent civil rights era of the 1960s and 70s, Ayers was a voice of tolerance and reason in his progressive editorials.

A 1959 graduate of the University of Alabama, Ayers was also a Nieman Fellow at Harvard and a Gannett Fellow at Columbia. He was a Washington correspondent for the Raleigh News and Observer and also covered Robert Kennedy's Justice Department for a news bureau serving newspapers in the South and Southwest before taking over as publisher of The Anniston Star 44 years ago. He was a founder of one of the leading institutions of the New South movement, the L. Q. C. Lamar Society, named for a 19th century Mississippi politician who was appointed associate justice of the U.S. Supreme Court in 1888 by President Grover Cleveland.

Ayers, a member of the Alabama Academy of Honor, received the Tutwiler Distinguished Service Award from the University of Alabama in 2002.

Buddy Davidson, who was born in Huntsville and grew up in Montgomery, came to Auburn as a freshman in 1957 and never left. A football manager for coach Ralph “Shug" Jordan and a correspondent for four daily newspapers as a student, Davidson was also the sports editor and later managing editor of The Plainsman, the award-winning student newspaper. He eventually became the A-Club president.

Davidson was Auburn's acclaimed sports information director, from 1964-79. His low-key national publicity campaign on behalf of quarterback Pat Sullivan was a major factor when Sullivan became Auburn's first Heisman Trophy winner in 1971. Davidson was promoted to women's athletic director and was later named assistant athletic director during the Pat Dye era.

"Buddy has never wanted attention or asked for recognition," said Huntsville attorney Reta McKannan, once a student assistant in Davidson's office. "He's one of the people who has made Auburn what it is – a good place to work hard and learn how to finish the job the right way."

Although he retired in 2007, but kept working, and suffered a major stroke last September, Davidson has continued an epic personal streak of having personally witnessed 668 straight Auburn football games, beginning in 1957 and stretching through the 2014 season. During the streak, Auburn teams have compiled a 449-209-10 record, which includes two national championships and a 19-13-1 bowl record.

Bruce McLellan, a graduate of the University of Georgia's Henry Grady School of Journalism, interned at the Chattanooga Times-Free Press and later worked at the Macon Telegraph before coming to Alabama more than 20 years ago, first as sports editor at The Decatur Daily and later as a key member of the sports staff at The Huntsville Times.

He then worked two years in sports at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, but returned to north Alabama in 2009 as the managing editor of The Decatur Daily. He is currently the online editor at both The Daily and its sister newspaper, the TimesDaily of Florence.

"Bruce is the wheel that keeps everything together," said The Daily's executive editor, Don Hudson. "He's versatile, and he knows who to turn to for everything."

"I admire Bruce for his work ethic and passion for both our newspapers," said Kristin Williams, a reporter for the Daily. "Whether it's 10 hours or 10 minutes before deadline, he's always in a story, checking and double-checking and triple-checking. For Bruce, there's no guessing or assuming the story is right."

Bob Sanders, born on a farm near Vernon, Alabama, in 1931, is an Auburn graduate who began working at radio stations in 1952 before being drafted into the U.S. Army in 1953. Discharged two years later, he started what would become a long and storied career in radio broadcasting at Auburn station WAUD on April 1, 1955.

From his tiny sound room, Sanders could be heard "broadcasting live from the luxurious Longview Lounge next to the Casino on the Tuskegee Turnpike" for decades thereafter. Longtime listeners fondly remember his "Traffic Helicopter" segment, which featured various townspeople supposedly flying overhead, munching on “soggy collard sandwiches" while reporting on the flow of traffic down below in the Loveliest Village of the Plain.

Sanders also became a folksy newspaper columnist in 1970, first at The Auburn Bulletin and later The Eagle, and still later at the Opelika-Auburn News. His writings include a book about his life, focusing on his growing-up years in rural Lamar County.

Paul South, a native of Fairfield, Alabama, is an Auburn graduate with a degree in journalism and a double minor in history. He also has a Juris Doctorate degree from the Birmingham School of Law. Although sports was always his first love, South had a remarkably versatile career as a reporter, columnist and editor. A lifelong physical handicap – he was born with cerebral palsy – never slowed him down.

Before transitioning to newspapers, South was the first full-time sports information director at Samford University in Birmingham. He later worked at newspapers both large and small, including the Shades Valley Sun and the Daily Mountain Eagle in Alabama, the Virginian-Pilot in Norfolk, the Kentucky Standard in Bardstown, the Mississippi Press in Pascagoula and the Daily World in Opelousas, Louisiana, winning more than 30 awards for writing and reporting from press associations in four states while covering "everything from cops and courts to college football, hurricanes and the last days of baseball legend Catfish Hunter."

He worked at the Daily Mountain Eagle from 1989-94, first as sports editor while also contributing editorials, lifestyle stories, religion and business stories, as well as general news and features. He later handled general news and feature assignments, wrote a weekly column for the editorial page, served as business editor and wrote a Sunday human interest column. While at the Jasper paper, he was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize for his coverage of the kidnapping and presumed murder of attorney Carrie Smith Lawson. Lawson was abducted from her Jasper home on Sept. 11, 1991, and has never been seen since.