Walter Spearman: 1908-1987
Director of N.C. Scholastic Press Associationfor 31 years and a beloved professor at UNC-Chapel Hill’s School of Journalism for more than 43 years, Walter Spearman was a fixture in the campus community and in the hearts of all who sat in his classroom—and many who didn’t.
Throughout his teaching career, Spearman taught more than 5,000 students. In his three decades as director of the N.C. Scholastic Press Institute he taught thousands more.
A Newberry, S.C., native, he earned his bachelor’s and master’s degrees from UNC-Chapel Hill, where he served as editor of The Daily Tar Heel, for which he was awarded Best College Editor in North Carolina. He was also the associate editor of the Yakety Yak yearbook, president of the N.C. Collegiate Press, president of Phi Beta Kappa and a member of the Golden Fleece and Order of the Grail.
After finishing school, Spearman worked as a reporter, book editor and drama columnist at The Charlotte News and as an editorial writer at the Greensboro Daily News. For more than 30 years he wrote a weekly book review column, “The Literary Lantern.”
Spearman first joined UNC Journalism as an instructor in 1935, and in 1941 he became the director of NCSPA. During his years as a full-time faculty member, Spearman was an adviser to the Carolina Symposium, the UNC Fine Arts Festival, Chi Psi Fraternity, the Publications Board, UNC Press Club, Sigma Delta Chi and the Order of the Golden Fleece.
Among his many honors were the Tanner and Valkyrie awards for outstanding undergraduate teaching and the University’s Thomas Jefferson Award for dedication to the community. He also received the N.C. Press Association Award for his work with high school press, and he was inducted into the N. C. Journalism Hall of Fame.
Spearman wrote two books, Racial Crisis and the News and The Carolina Playmakers: The First Fifty Years, and helped to create the Walter Spearman Collection in the School of Journalism, a collection of books written or edited by alumni of the School. He also wrote four plays, a film script and television show, and he acted in more than 80 Carolina Playmakers roles, and even two motion pictures.
In addition to his many accomplishments and honors, Spearman created a lasting impression on the students he taught, both at UNC and the N.C. Scholastic Press Institute, many of whom he befriended and kept in touch with for the rest of his life. He kept hundreds of letters from former students who wrote him over the years to let him know how much of an impact he had made upon their lives. These letters are now part of the Southern Historical Collection in Special Collections at UNC’s Wilson Library.
As former teacher, editor and columnist Jim Shumaker once said, “He was probably as close to being Mr. Chips as anyone this old Journalism School will ever get.”