Keith Hautala

Gifford Blyton Remembered as Supreme Teacher, Mentor, Debate Coach

Published: Dec 10, 2012

LEXINGTON, Ky. (Dec. 10, 2012) — The University of Kentucky College of Communication and Information recently held a luncheon to pay tribute to the memory of Gifford Blyton, the veteran UK speech and communication professor who died in 2011 at the age of 102.


Blyton taught at UK from 1948 to 1975, and coached the award-winning UK debate team for 21 years. He served as a parliamentarian with the University Senate for 35 years.


Dozens of faculty members, both active and retired, family members, and supporters of the UK Debate team were joined by UK President Eli Capilouto on Oct. 18, as they shared reminiscences about Blyton, who is today remembered as one of the greatest teachers and mentors that the university has ever had in the field of oral communication. A tribute video by communication lecturer Raj Gaur was also shown.


Ben Blyton, son of the beloved late professor, said that his father would have been honored by the tribute. In his remarks, he stressed the primacy of communication as it relates to every other academic and professional discipline.


"All of you here who work, study and teach in the field of communication, are in the most important field there is, bar none," he said. "Don't let anybody tell you any different."


Dean Dan O'Hair related a story about a meeting with Professor Blyton "at the young age of 101" in 2009, O'Hair's first year at UK. O'Hair said that as he prepared to leave, Blyton gave him a collection of news clippings, handouts, pamphlets, brochures and handwritten notes from his years at UK.


"In classic professorial fashion, he sent me home with some reading material," O'Hair said.


Deanna Sellnow, the Gifford Blyton Endowed Professor of Oral Communication and Forensics, spoke about the importance of a strong coach to a debate team's success.


"As a former 'forensicator' myself, beginning in the eighth grade and throughout four years of college, I know how much work goes into winning as a competitor and how much of that success depends on the coach," Sellnow said. "Gifford Blyton had what it takes as a leader, mentor, teacher, and role model."


Blyton's goal was not just to bring home trophies, Sellnow said, but to educate young minds.


"Winning competitions were one result of the education he successfully delivered," she said. "Another result was the success of his students after graduation. They went on to become leaders themselves in professions ranging from law to business and industry to politics and education."


Born in 1908 in Clarkston, Wash., Blyton grew up on a fruit ranch in Wawawai, Wash., where his playmates were Nez Perce Native American children. He spent his first eight years of school in a one-room schoolhouse. Blyton later graduated from Lewiston High School in Idaho, paying his way through high school by delivering papers.


He earned money for college by making fruit boxes and performing other tasks during summers. He attended the University of Washington in Seattle, paying his tuition by washing dishes in a sorority house and working for Metro Goldwyn Mayer. While working aboard a yacht called the Caroline, earning money to complete school, he met a wealthy oilman from Louisiana who offered to help Blyton pursue doctoral studies at Louisiana State University. Blyton met his wife Marion Geren while in Baton Rouge, and later finished his Ph.D. at Ohio State University.


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