My name is Barry Hollander, of Athens, Georgia. I died on January 30, 2018 due to complications related to thyroid cancer at the age of 59. Yes, I wrote my own obituary in advance. No one who knows me is surprised.
Thyroid cancer killed me. It’s usually treatable with a high survival rate, but I was blessed with a rare genetic mutation that allowed the cancer to shrug off the standard treatment and take a tour of my lungs. Drugs forced the cancer to behave itself for a few years and I continued to work while dealing with a host of colorful side effects and occasional pain. For treatment I traveled to MD Anderson in Houston, the top cancer center in the country, and my doctor there is an expert in the field.
Even an expert can only do so much. Eventually the cancer won.
I was a journalism professor at the University of Georgia for over 26 years, teaching basic and advanced reporting classes and, at the graduate level, public opinion. I never allowed my students to write their assignments in the first person, so it’s ironic that my very last piece of published writing is in, of all things, first person. We’ll come back to this in a moment.
To many in Athens I’m best known as Edith Hollander’s husband. To put this in traditional obituary phrasing, I leave behind my wonderful wife, the very best part of me. It sucks that I won’t get to grow old with her. It sucks that I won’t get to watch our amazing children raise families of their own: Jacob (a geologist with Schnabel Engineering in Greensboro, N.C.) and Erin (an MD/PhD student at UPenn in Philadelphia). Both, just amazing. Just short of your first child arriving you think it won’t be all that different, right up until the moment you hold him that first time and the entire universe reorders itself. You think with the second child it won’t be that big a deal, and again when you first hold her, the universe changes again. Despite all my threats to send our kids to Jesuit military boarding school, nothing comes close to the delight in watching them grow into remarkable adults.
It’s time now for the boring but necessary stuff because this is my last chance to bore everyone and you’re obligated to slog through it. I mentioned above I am survived by my wife and two children.. I’m also survived by my sister, Deni Patton of Ethridge, Tennessee, of whom I was never the brother I should’ve been. I was preceded in death by my father, the fiercely loyal Buddy Hollander, and my mother, the ever-patient Shelby Hollander, who was probably her own guardian angel’s guardian angel. I was a better father than I ever was a son.
More boring information. I was born in Lawrenceburg, Tennessee, at that time a Mayberryesque small southern town where you can also trace journalism roots as my dad was a circulation manager for the two large Nashville daily newspapers and in charge of several counties along the Tennessee-Alabama border. So I grew up surrounded by newspapers. By age 12 I was a paperboy, peddling a bike at 5 a.m. in all kinds of weather to deliver the morning paper and then doing it again at 3 p.m. for those who took the afternoon paper. At 14 I increased the size of my route and bought my first motorcycle, a thing legal at the time. By 16 I had a bigger route, a bigger motorcycle, and I also bought my first car. I delivered papers through high school and sometimes on weekends when home from college. Surrounded by papers, I grew up reading the news of the 1960s and 1970s, prime time when it came to big stories, but in college I majored in of all things marine biology -- right up until that fateful semester when organic chemistry convinced me that perhaps journalism was a better career choice.
After graduation I took a reporting job at a small daily newspaper in Mississippi, where I began accumulating the usual awards you get in the news business, such as best investigative reporting or best breaking news coverage. True story: 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.
Later I moved to a daily paper in Louisiana where I met my wife, Edith, who was also a reporter there. After that, I covered politics and government for the Sarasota Herald-Tribune. At some point Edith and I rolled the career dice, quit our jobs, and moved to Gainesville, Florida, to attend graduate school at the University of Florida, she in public relations, me in journalism (our marriage survived). The plan was for us to both get our masters degrees, me in a specialty like data journalism, and then I’d return to the news business. That changed when grad school -- and Dr. Mary Ann Ferguson -- sparked in me a love of academic research, so I stayed for a Ph.D and in Fall 1991 took a job as an assistant professor at the Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication at UGA. Years later, through sheer dumb luck or perhaps after being around for so long they felt obligated to give it to me, I made full Professor, being one of the top scholars in talk radio, how people learn from the news media, and why people believe in theories.
I 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. I’m convinced Heaven, assuming I go there, looks a lot like Athens.
Send flowers if you like, as Edith loves them, but in my memory raise a good glass of bourbon or single-malt whisky. 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.
The visitation will be held at Lord & Stephens funeral home on Lexington Road on Thursday, February 1 from 6:00-8:00pm. The funeral Mass will be held at St. Joseph’s Catholic Church on Epps Bridge on Friday, February 2 at 3:30pm. Flowers can be sent to Lord & Stephens funeral home.