In June 2000 the Freedom Forum board of trustees met in a dark crowded room at the Berkeley Hotel, and Charles told of a proposal to buy the land at 555 Pennsylvania Ave.
The room was hushed, shocked by the boldness of the offer. Then Senator Howard Baker, board secretary for that meeting, broke the silence: “Well you’ve got courage.”
This was only one of the many special experiences Charles has provided for many of us on the board. Some of the others that come to mind today are
§ Admiral Alan B. Shepard, Jr., on the roof of a Beverly Hills hotel, telling us that going to the moon was not the scariest thing he ever did. It was landing a jet on an aircraft carrier at night, something thousands of Americans have done;
§ Walking the streets of Dubrovnik a few years after it was bombarded by Serbian troops;
§ Touring the Castle Church in Wittenberg, Germany, where Martin Luther nailed his 95 theses on the door and began the Protestant Reformation;
§ Attending a presidential debate in Accra, Ghana that helped to move democratic processes forward in that fledgling democracy; and
§ Listening to Charles tell a room full of eastern European journalists that Slobodan Milosevic was on his way to the Hague. The meal virtually ended at that announcement and journalists throughout the room jumped from their chairs, lit cigarettes and gathered in small groups of animated conversation.
I have known Charles for more than 36 years. I first met him when he was working for the Gannett News Service in Washington. Charles spoke to classes on that visit and at several special programs during ensuing years, but we became better acquainted when he was named executive editor of The Clarion-Ledger in 1982.
It was a reporting professor’s delight to watch him connect with former Ole Miss and high school classmates for news and support as the newspaper reported on Governor William Winter’s efforts to bring education reform to Mississippi. The governor and his staff had been stymied by entrenched legislators who opposed funding educational improvement. However, The Clarion-Ledger’s careful and bold reporting exposed the roadblocks.
The most powerful feature in The Clarion-Ledger’s coverage was the Hall of Shame box that listed the legislators who opposed the education reform package. It ran on the front page of the newspaper.
One by one, members of the Hall of Shame ended opposition to educational reform, and the list grew smaller, and the governor’s package passed.
The Clarion-Ledger was rewarded with a Pulitzer Prize in 1983 and named The Best of Gannett.
Clearly, William Winter and Charles Overby were the two leaders who brought new life to Mississippi education during the early 1980s.
Today I can sit at my desk in the Meek School and watch students strolling through the Grove on the Ole Miss campus. Just down the hall is the Overby Center for Southern Journalism and Politics — a lasting tribute to a savvy journalist who took on the Mississippi legislative establishment.
Like Howard Baker we can say “Charles, you’ve got courage.”