Legendary professor to be honored Oct. 29 at URI Kingston campus

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Talk Doc Agnes Doody talks some more at dedication

KINGSTON –Oct. 5, 2010 – Who wears the color purple, coils her hair in a gold crown and drives a pair of Mercedes-Benz with the trademark “TALK” and “TALK2” as license plates?

It is – and could only be – Dr. Agnes G. Doody, professor emerita of communication studies, who worked at the University of Rhode Island for 45 years. And though she officially retired in 2003, she’s still in high gear, set to deliver the first lecture at dedication ceremonies of the newly-named Agnes G. Doody Auditorium of Swan Hall.

Former students, faculty and just plain fans of the legendary professor have been invited to the event, which is free and open to the public, slated for Friday, Oct. 29 at 4 p.m. in the auditorium. University President David M. Dooley will welcome attendees, and Beverly Swan, former provost and professor emerita, will offer remarks, to be followed by an introduction by Winifred E. Brownell, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences. Then it will be Doody who assumes her place behind the lectern in the redesigned and refurbished auditorium. Her talk will be followed by a reception with refreshments in the lobby, and an opportunity for everyone to greet once again the woman who influenced so many lives – and continues to do so.

Agnes Doody has “the unique ability to make you reach higher than you ever imagined you could,” said former student Doug Rubinstein (class of 1968), who is helping plan the occasion. “Since the first day I sat in her class 43 years ago, she continues to be an inspiration to me and the small nation of former students she taught for over four decades at URI.”

Donations in Doody’s honor, to benefit the Agnes G. Doody Scholarship, are being accepted and are tax-deductible. “There are a number of naming opportunities,” said Brownell. They include naming four shadow boxes that will be mounted in the auditorium, each evoking an era of Doody’s professional life at URI from the 1960s to the 1990s. Donors of $1,000 or more will be recognized on a hall plaque.

“All donors whose gifts were received by October 5 will be listed in the program, and that will be framed for the wall,” added Brownell. “And we’ll continue to add contributors’ names as the gifts are received, which will go to support student scholarships in the Harrington School of Communication and Media, based on merit and need.”

Associate Dean of Arts and Sciences Thomas Zorabedian promises there will be “a couple of surprises” at the event – which should come as no surprise to those familiar with the ever-unpredictable Agnes Doody.

As for the guest of honor herself, she is “absolutely overwhelmed by this,” Doody said. “I didn’t see it coming, and I’m very humbled by it all. It really blew me away!”

To RSVP or for further information on the lecture and reception, contact Linda Laurenzo at 401.874.4101 or linda @uri.edu. For further information or questions about gifts and naming opportunities, contact Zorabedian at 401.874.2853 or zman@foundation.uri.edu.

About Agnes G. Doody

Agnes G. Doody is a speech and communication consultant. She founded Arthur Associates, based in Wakefield, in 1988, and continues to advise private companies, public organizations and students about communications and etiquette.

Born in 1930, she grew up on a 400-acre farm in North Branford, Conn., the daughter of a farmer and a schoolteacher. She milked cows, was a crackerjack rifle shooter, and in 1946 became the first female to win the State Meat Animal Fair when exhibiting her cows. (Listed as “A. Doody” in the competition, she was assumed by judges to be a boy.) During World War II, she was an airplane-spotter for a time, until officials discovered she was only 15 and had lied about her age.

Doody is not shy about relating that she was expelled from Central Connecticut State College for hitchhiking. She then enrolled at Emerson College in Boston, where she was a self-described underachiever placed on academic probation. Nonetheless, Doody did make it to graduation, and ultimately received a doctorate from Penn State.

After teaching for five years at Penn State, Doody began her URI teaching career in 1958 as director of Forensics, Department of Speech and Theatre – one of only 61 women in a faculty of 400. She quickly earned notice for a uniquely effective teaching style, along with an ability to ride a bicycle in high heels. When denied a raise because she was married and “only” a woman, she threatened the URI president that she would have her marriage annulled, and take out a newspaper ad describing the unjust treatment. She protested other unfair actions of every type, including President Richard Nixon’s characterization of student Vietnam War protesters as “bums.” Doody has always been known as an outspoken advocate for women, for students of every ability level, and for civil and human rights.

Academically, she earned unmitigated praise and prestige, raising the profile of a field long considered near the bottom of the academic ladder. In 1967, she founded and chaired the Department of Speech at URI. She coached debate teams and pioneered business communications and conflict resolution courses. Communication grew to become the most popular major at URI; today, it is under the aegis of the newly-established Harrington School of Communication and Media, which also includes studies in film media, journalism, public relations, writing and rhetoric, and library and information studies.