The Presence of Gr, My Pal

By Fisher, Walt | Communication Studies, Fall 1999 | Go to article overview

The Presence of Gr, My Pal


Fisher, Walt, Communication Studies


G. R. was not G. R. when I arrived on the Iowa campus in the autumn of 1957. He was Gerry Miller. But even then, he was a presence, not only because he had been at Iowa for some time, having earned his BA and MA degrees there (in Political Science), but also because he had already established himself as an exceptional teacher and an intellect of the first order. In addition, there was his dominating personality and his forceful way of presenting himself. He did not like it too much when I nicknamed him the "Muscatine Mouth." Fortunately, the name never took, and we got along fine. In fact, I think that I was closer to him than any of our cohort. And the cohort was a pretty good line-up: Bob Bostrom, John Bowers, Lloyd Bitzer, Bob Tiemans, Harry Zavos--to note just a few. It was, as we keep telling Sam Becker, the Golden Age at The Athens of the Midwest, Iowa.

Much later, when G. R. was G. R., when he was truly a presence--a distinguished scholar, teacher, editor, and administrator--I had breakfast with him at an NCA convention. We reminisced, and I asked him why there was no G. R. theory of communication. He said that grand theory was not his forte. "On the other hand," I said, "you have been an intellectual catalyst for social science research in communication since we were at Iowa." "Well," he said, "that's right." "My role has been to be at the forefront in the advancement of any idea that would give direction to communication research that would make a positive difference in the lives of individuals and society."

G. R. was different from many others who converted and followed the faith of behavioral science. He was broader in his outlook, more knowledgeable and more appreciative of ideas from other faiths, including rhetorical studies. There are two important factors that account for his breadth.

First there was the education we were privileged to receive at Iowa. We all took courses across the discipline--from speech education to speech pathology, from dramatic theory to social science theory and research, and from public address to rhetorical theory and criticism. And each of us had to be tested (I won't say master) two languages and complete a cognate line of study (Psychology for GR, History for me). Second, and most important, was G. R.'s innate humanity, his love of good ideas and those who espoused them.

I cannot say that G. R. was always sanguine about the courses we had to take. There was, for instance, the summer seminar that we took in British Public Address. We had a study group that included a fellow from the Art Department who was pursuing a PHD in our program, Orazio Fumagalli, was even less impressed with the course than G. R. As we all were walking up to Shaeffer Hall to take our final exam Orazio, in true Churchillian cadences, pronounced these immortal words: "I have never studied less, I have never known less, and I have never cared less." G. R.'s response was a stentorian "Hear! …

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