Thomas Hodson '73: Answering the Question "What's Next for Now"
|E.W. Scripps School of Journalism Director
As an Ohio University undergraduate, Thomas Hodson '73 participated in the Ohio Fellows Program, an initiative designed to give top-level students travel opportunities, internships, and a range of experiences to enhance their leadership potential. While in the program, Thomas was mentored by Professor Leslie Rollins, a former Harvard Business School associate dean. He inspired Thomas and instilled in him a curiosity about the world with the mantra, "If you're stagnant, you're going backward."
Years later at 31, Thomas was the youngest elected judge in Ohio. Two months after joining the Athens County Municipal Court, he took a call from his mentor Rollins. Expecting congratulations, Thomas was surprised to hear him say, "So now what are you going to do with the rest of your life?" And so it has been -- a series of experiences and careers propelling Thomas ever forward.
Thomas, a Dayton native, chose Ohio University for the strength of its journalism school. A stringer for a local paper and newspaper editor in high school and college, he knew he wanted to write. Thomas came to Moritz to become a better reporter.
At Moritz, Thomas was again inspired, this time by Professors Larry Herman who taught him criminal law and John Quigley who demystified the trial process. Intrigued by the practice of law, Thomas became a lawyer in Athens, Ohio after graduation. Following election to the municipal bench in 1980, he was elected to the Athens County Court of Common Pleas in 1984.
Throughout his legal career, Thomas kept his hand in media writing, hosting pubic affairs programming, and teaching journalism at O.U. As a judge, he began to see a need for media and community relations programming and began sharing his expertise with others. At a seminar for the Institute of Court Management in Denver, a co-panelist affiliated with the U.S. Supreme Court suggested he apply for a Supreme Court Judicial Fellowship. His mentor would have been proud of Thomas, who applied 10 days later and was shortly thereafter one of 7 finalists for two fellowships.
Finalists from throughout the United States were invited to Washington D.C. for one and a half days of interviewing with various Supreme Court personnel and federal judges. The culminating activity was a dinner with dignitaries including some justices. Finalists curious about the after-dinner program were surprised to find that they were the program.
At the end of dinner, each was asked to stand and speak extemporaneously for three minutes on a topic of his or her choice. "Even now, I'm not sure what I spoke about," says Thomas, "It was one of those moments in life you just get through. Even now, it's a blur, although I think I may have compared and contrasted the state and federal courts."
Thomas was selected and served during the Hon. William H. Rehnquist's first year as chief justice. Tailoring the one-year fellowship to Thomas' strengths, Court personnel assigned him to the public information office where he served as a liaison between the court and the press; many reporters became life-long friends. In addition, he worked with Justice Rehnquist's administrator and the legal counsel to the Court. "It was," says Thomas "an incredible year."
Unable to secure a sabbatical from his post as a common pleas judge to become a judicial fellow, Thomas returned to Athens and the practice of law. In addition to his busy trial practice, Thomas found time to serve on and chair the Ohio University Board of Trustees and teach as an adjunct in the University's Scripps School of Journalism. He authored a variety of publications and developed a national consulting practice specializing in court/media relations and court/community relations.
In 2001, finding law less satisfying than in the past and anxious to explore new opportunities, Thomas accepted an invitation to join Marietta College as chair of the Mass Media Department. Opportunity came knocking again in 2003 when Ohio University approached Thomas about directing the Scripps School.
Thomas began in July 2003 and is the first alumnus to lead the Scripps School. He spent his first year building consensus and cooperation among the faculty, recruiting top students, and increasing alumni engagement. Ongoing challenges include student placement; revising the curriculum to prepare students to write and deliver the news in electronic, print, and on-line formats; and working to develop degree programs in which media expertise is complemented by a substantive area like business or science.
Thomas is often asked how he was able to combine law and journalism so easily. "Lawyers and journalists enjoy more similarities than differences," he says, "Both fields require gathering and analyzing facts and writing clearly and persuasively." Law school classmates wishing to continue the conversation can reach Thomas at email@example.com.