One of the all-time great, but reserved Vermonters that I got to know and work with has passed away. Giff Hart of Essex was a longtime, cherished journalism professor/ department chair at St. Michael’s College (and previously served the college in both public relations and sports information). He was a man with so many interests. A real Renaissance man.
Members of the Vermont media knew they could always get the straight story from Giff when he handled public relations at the college or when he was involved in other ventures in the community, including the airport. When Giff taught public relations, government relations or whatever, he always explained that lying and covering up are the two worst sins anybody or any business can do.
Giff insisted that journalism students understand the importance of both accuracy and ethics, among other things. Many papers were returned to students with a failing grade with his well-known notation in red: “F/E” (Fact Error). If you spelled names wrong or got addresses wrong, there was no future for you in journalism, he said.
Giff saved many a day, but often behind the scenes. As a Burlington Free Press reporter I covered U.S. Sen. Ted Kennedy, D-Mass. as the SMC graduation speaker (circa 1972) and Giff was doing the public relations for the college. Graduation was held outside on a beautiful Saturday in front of the Durick Library. It was shortly before the event when Kennedy realized he forgot his written speech somewhere. Giff had a Kennedy staffer in Washington dictate the speech over a phone to Giff’s assistant, who typed it. As each page flew off the typewriter, somebody sprinted to the back of the stage to slip it to Kennedy. Few people knew that story.
Giff tried to recruit me to initially teach the Media Law class in 1985 and I gave him the names of a few good local lawyers. “I don’t want a lawyer,” he said. “They will always say: ‘Don’t publish the story.’ I want a journalist who will teach our students about what is fair, what is legal, what is ethical and what can be printed.”
It is easy to recall Giff’s extra work with students, his dry sense of humor, his news sense, his talent to create excellent graphics, his ability to make everybody feel like part of a team. And so much more.
Students always wanted Giff’s classes and many battled to get him as their academic adviser. He wrote extraordinary letters of recommendation. A Giff Hart letter was one sure way to get a job, internship or scholarship.
Giff Hart was all Heart. RIP.