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Professor Retires, Leaves Behind Long Legacy

Hoyt Purvis sits on his desk in an office that has accumulated every newspaper he has ever read and every piece of paper he has ever received. His office has been described as “one of the wonders of the world” by long-time friend Skip Rutherford, who suggested it be opened to the general public for tours.

“The same empty Diet Coke can that I encountered on my first visit stayed in the exact location for at least three years,” said Rutherford, Dean of the UA Clinton School of Public Service.

After more than 30 years teaching at the UofA, Purvis, 76, will retire at the end of this semester.

Purvis has become a fundamental part of the journalism department during his time at the UofA. He has brought his personal experiences, knowledge and passion to the university, former UA chancellor Dan Ferritor said.

“He lived out his passions each day through educating us,” said Brandi Moore, senior advertising and public relations student. “At the time, you might have thought it was silly that he took the time to check roll on each and every row of his lecture hall. But looking back, I see it more of a notion that he truly cared about who was there, who was willing to learn about something he enjoys, who was committed to being a journalism student. It was his way of rewarding those for their commitment to him.”

Although Purvis has followed a career in journalism, he is also recognized by his distinguished career serving as press secretary and special assistant to Sen. J. William Fulbright and by his position as council/senior adviser on foreign and defense policy to Senate Majority Leader Robert Byrd.

Purvis brought an enormous amount of recognition to the university, Ferritor said.

“When you look at the two senators he worked with, Sen. Fulbright and Sen. Byrd, Hoyt was in the midst of American politics and American relations and he brought it to the university. How very lucky were we?” Ferritor said.

Purvis was involved in several major events while serving as senior adviser for Sen. Byrd. In 1979, Vice Chairman and Vice Premier Deng Xiaoping visited Washington and met with Sen. Byrd in his office.

Xiaoping was a very short guy, Purvis said, and he was sitting in a big stuffed chair in Byrd’s office. When the meeting was over and it was time to get up, Xiaoping was having trouble getting out of the chair because his feet wouldn’t reach the floor.

“So I decided the right thing to do was reach over and give him a tug to get out of the chair,” Purvis said. “I’ve always told my students that was my contribution to U.S.-China relations,” Purvis said.

After attending the University of Texas and moving on to graduate school, Purvis wanted to follow his goal of working in Washington D.C. because of his interest in politics and international relations.

“I admired Sen. Fulbright because of his involvement with international relations, educational and cultural exchange,” Purvis said. “I really wanted to work for Sen. Fulbright.”

Purvis was in constant contact with Lee Williams, the administrative assistant for Sen. Fulbright and contacted him once he arrived in Washington D.C.

“The time came where I was going to have to either get a job with Fulbright or do something else,” Purvis said.

While visiting Washington D.C., Purvis had the opportunity to meet with Williams and sit in on a foreign relations committee hearing about the Vietnam War. After the hearing broke, Williams asked Purvis to go back to Fulbright’s office and have lunch. At the end of the lunch, Purvis was offered the job as press secretary. He was 27 years old.

“He told me later on that Sen. Fulbright wanted to make sure that I was the right man and they had already decided before the luncheon that they were going to offer me a job,” Purvis said.

While Purvis was press secretary for Sen. Fulbright, Washington D.C. was overseeing matters related to the Vietnam War and other issues such as the Watergate affair.

“Every day was a busy, busy day,” Purvis said.

After being Fulbright’s secretary for six years, Purvis decided to leave Washington D.C and go back to Austin, Texas, to be on the faculty at the Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs and work on some projects, Purvis said.

“One of the things that was most important about the whole experience – Fulbright was a great guy to work for,” Purvis said.

Before becoming senior adviser for Majority Leader Byrd, Purvis worked on the Carter campaign and contemplated going back to Washington D.C and becoming part of the administration.

Then, he got a call from Byrd.

“He wanted to play a major role in foreign and defense policy matters and I had been recommended to him as someone who might be the staff member responsible for foreign and defense policy,” Purvis said.

After meeting with Byrd he was offered the job as council/senior adviser and foreign and defense policy. While working for Byrd, Purvis became a key figure in “many of the major foreign policy issues at the time,” Purvis said.

“I worked on the Panama Canal treaties, U.S.-Soviet relations, U.S.-China relations, Middle East, lots of big issues and had the opportunity to travel with Sen. Byrd to meet many of the important world leaders of that time,” Purvis said.

Purvis reflected on some of the experiences he was a part of while working for Sen. Byrd such as trips to China, the Middle East, Egypt, Japan and meetings with world leaders like Leonid Brezhnev and Anwar Sadat.

“We spent the 4th of July of 1979 meeting with Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev,” Purvis said. “We flew on a special Soviet plane down to that region and we traveled over to the area where Brezhnev was staying and we were riding in the big black limousines, they cleared all the traffic off the roads, right in the Black Sea.”

Purvis worked with Sen. Byrd full time for more than four years but kept working on side projects for years after he left Washington D.C.

“I went back to UT and I was teaching there again but also working on some projects in Washington,” Purvis said. “Writing reports and speeches for several years after that.”

Purvis’s long legacy and remarkable experiences began years before he arrived at the UofA in 1982. A graduate from the University of Texas, Purvis served as sports editor and editor of the Daily Texan.

“You’re 20 years old and you’re the editor of a daily newspaper and writing editorials and covering stories and meeting people,” Purvis said. “I got to meet Martin Luther King and a lot of other interesting and famous people. It turned out to be a very good thing.”

During his time at UT, Purvis participated in the Texas-Chilean student leaders exchange where he was able to study at the University of Chile in Santiago.

“That was my first extended time abroad and I learned a lot from that experience and that had a lot of impact on my life,” Purvis said. “In a sense, I found out there was a lot to see and know in the rest of the world and it was important to understand the rest of the world.”

After receiving his bachelor’s degree and leaving UT, Purvis studied as a graduate student in France on a Rotary Fellowship for a year. He then went on to Nashville, Tennessee, where he became a graduate student at Vanderbilt and worked on reporting about school desegregation in the south, Purvis said.


Other aspects of Purvis’s journalistic career included his work as a political reporter for the Houston Chronicle. In the last 20 years, Purvis haswritten regular political and public affairs opinion columns for Northwest Arkansas newspapers. He has also done political commentary for the local KNWA station for the last 15 years.

Before becoming part of the faculty at the UofA, Purvis encountered his first teaching experience in Kenya where he taught journalism and was able to travel through most of Africa.

“I was continually in the process of trying to understand what was happening in the world, why it was happening and what it might mean,” Purvis said.

Though he was dividing his time between Austin and Washington D.C., his loyalty was still in Arkansas, he said.

“I was really happy when I had a chance to come back to Arkansas and when I came back, I didn’t leave,” Purvis said.

Purvis came to Arkansas during the commemoration for Sen. Fulbright. After his visit, the dean of Fulbright College contacted Purvis.

“He asked me if I would possibly be interested in being in the faculty here and to devote some time to help establish Fulbright Institute,” Purvis said.

After his arrival, Purvis began his work as director of Fulbright Institute of International Relations from 1982 through 2000 and started the International Relations major at the UofA.

“I’m very proud of the success that it has had. I’ve put a lot of effort and energy in that because I thought it was extremely important,” Purvis said. “Especially in a college honoring Sen. Fulbright, it seemed to me very important to have a strong international relations academic program.”

He worked on strengthening international emphasis on campus and assisted DeDe Long, director of the Study Abroad Office, in helping the study abroad program become stronger.

During his time in the journalism department, he has taught thousands of students through Media and Society, a prerequisite for all journalism sequences. It is the first class journalism students attend where they are introduced to the various types of media and where they learn the importance of it in today’s society. Purvis has become one of the first journalism professors students encounter when starting work on their journalism degree.

“He is such an exceptional professor. When he speaks, you are compelled to listen to what he says because he has had so many interesting experiences in his life,” Moore said. “His wisdom on politics, media and foreign policies is admirable. He has influenced me to engage myself deeper into our new realm of media especially in connection with politics.”

Other academic accomplishments include creating new courses, teaching various classes and publishing books.

“I also started the first sports journalism course here,” Purvis said. “I’ve taught an Honors Colloquium on Media and Politics and that has always been one of the classes I’ve enjoyed the most.”

Purvis has written several books throughout his career. He recently co-wrote “Voices of the Razorbacks: A History of Arkansas’s Iconic Sports Broadcasters” with Stanley Sharp, combining his writing skills with his love for sports.

“It was a lot of fun. I’ve had other books about Korea, and Soviet Union and international relations and Media and Politics, but that was a fun one to work on,” Purvis said.


During his time at the UofA, Purvis was appointed by President Bill Clinton to the Fulbright Foreign Scholarship Board, where he served from 1993 to 2003 and as chairman from 1996 to 1999.

During Purvis’s time as chairman, the Fulbright program had its 50th anniversary.

“There were events all around the world honoring the Fulbright program,” Purvis said. “So, I traveled a lot on behalf of the Fulbright program and state department to parts of the world and the opportunity to be in that position was a really extraordinary experience for me.”

Purvis was still able to teach in Fayetteville while returning to Washington D.C. with the Fulbright Scholarship Board, something he thought he would do at some point in his life. He was a single parent at the time, raising two daughters, and he thought that once they finished high school he would do something else, he said.

“I enjoyed teaching so much and loved being at the university and loved Fayetteville so much, that I couldn’t leave,” Purvis said.

Now, at this point in his career Purvis has decided to pursue other interests. He is unsure of what his next steps will be, but two of his priorities are to visit his four grandchildren – two in Denver and two who will be moving to Singapore in August as well as traveling.  

“The funny thing is I don’t think he knows what he wants to do,” said Mary Purvis, Purvis’s wife and the Director of Development for the Fay Jones School of Architecture and Design. “We have a condo in Hot Springs. We are huge fans of the races and the lake. He wants to travel, more time for sports, he wants to write, he has ideas for books.”

Another thing he is sure of is his desire to keep pursuing his love for sports, journalism and writing, Purvis said.

“I am a very serious sports fan and I enjoy going to various sports events,” Purvis said. “There are lots of things to see and do that I’m interested in doing and to get some writing done and that’s what I hope to do.”

Mary Purvis, his wife of 19 years, said she thinks there is still plenty for her husband to do in retirement.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if he wrote a book about his experiences,” Mary Purvis said. “I think some doors will open when he’s ready.”

With his impending retirement, many faculty and students have reflected and voiced their opinions on the loss of such a respected professor.

Journalism department chair and professor Larry Foley spoke about his relationship with Purvis.

“It’s going to be hard for us not to have Hoyt. He is a rock, he is a sage, he is a master teacher and an irreplaceable colleague. We will do the best we can to move forward, but he is irreplaceable,” Foley said. “When you think of the journalism department, you can’t think of it without Purvis.”

Other professors who have known Purvis since their start at the UofA reflected on Purvis’s impact he had on the department.

“He always brings careful thought and fairness to discussions and Larry has said, talking about Hoyt, ‘We regard his as the voice of God,’” journalism professor Patsy Watkins said. “People will be throwing out opinions, points and positions, Hoyt will speak up and pull things into perspective, but do it in a way that makes so much sense that people will nod their heads and say, ‘Yeah.’”

Through side projects Purvis has made many friends within the Arkansas media. Purvis and Steve Barnes met in 1968, while Purvis was assisting in Sen. Fulbright’s re-election and Barnes was covering the campaign, Barnes said.

One of his greatest assets is his willingness to consider another point of view, to never believe he has “the solution,” Arkansas Week host Steve Barnes said. “He operates from the standpoint that the search for truth never ends, that additional information is always welcome, that man is fallible.”

Purvis and Barnes became friends and later on, when Barnes became the host for Arkansas Week, he had the opportunity to interview Purvis on the show.

“A few guys were fishing on the Little Red River, a sunny day, perfect weather, the trout cooperative,” Barnes said. “Hoyt spent most of the afternoon reading. Obviously it was more satisfying than fishing.  Now, had we been at a baseball park, things might have been different. Or, perhaps not.”

From an early age, before Purvis began his professional journalistic and political career, he began to pursue his interest in the media.  

“I, like a lot of others with some of my friends started a little newspaper, I think in junior high school. We had a paper called the Gab Gazette. There were three of us who worked on that together,” Purvis said. “There was another group who had kind of a rival newspaper.”

One of Purvis’s friend’s dad was on the faculty at Arkansas State University and allowed them to use the typewriter and mimeographed.

“It was a mimeographed, I know you probably don’t know what that is but that was before copying machines,” Purvis said.

Later on, when he still lived in Jonesboro, Purvis sought several opportunities that related to his interest in sports. At around the age of 14-15 he began working at the local radio station doing a local sports show.  

“Just a 15-minute spot show, late every afternoon and I could basically do whatever I wanted to. So I started working at the radio station doing a sports show and that was the first paid media job I got and I think I got $5 a week,” Purvis said.  

This came about because of his interest in baseball. Two years before, Purvis had met with one of the local radio stations managers when he called him in to stop answering the baseball trivia. The local radio station had a trivia section where they would give out baseball clues each day and listeners could call in and win a prize. Purvis won the trivia several times before the station manager called his father and asked him to tell Purvis to stop calling in.

“I was young and unrealistic and I said, well somehow it came up and I asked him to give me a job doing some sports for that station, he just kind of laughed.” Purvis said. “A couple of years later – I think it was probably two years later – he called me and asked me if I would like to do a local sports show.”

Purvis did the sports show for a year and then later on did some music stuff with the same station, Purvis said.

“I was very interested in the music that was coming out of Memphis, particularly Sun Studio,” Purvis said.

With Jonesboro only 60 miles from Memphis, Purvis along with some friends would go regularly to Memphis. Purvis and his friends were mainly interested with some of the individuals at Sun Studio, Purvis said.

“One that particularly interested me was Johnny Cash,” Purvis said. “I thought it would be a great thing to put on a show featuring Johnny Cash.”

Purvis and his friends tried to make contact with Johnny Cash but failed for some time. Eventually, they were told Cash would be performing on a certain night and they decided to go and see if they would get a chance to talk to him.  

“We didn’t really get much of a chance then but long story short we wound up unexpectedly riding in the car with him,” Purvis said. “It was a lot of fun riding in the car with him and hearing him tell some stories.”

After meeting with Johnny Cash, Purvis and his friends were asked if they would be interested in Roy Orbison.

“We wound up helping to put on a show with Roy Orbison. It was a pretty good success but it took a lot of work and there was a lot of complications along the way,” Purvis said. “And as a result of all that, I decided my career wasn’t going to be a music promoter.”

Purvis has created a long-lasting legacy that has affected hundreds, if not thousands, of students, said Ferritor.

“I decided it was time. I could have retired some years ago but I’ve enjoyed teaching and working,” Purvis said. “I kind of had to force myself to retire.”

Purvis will present the annual Roy Reed Lecture at 7 p.m. April 6 in the Janelle Y. Hembree Alumni House. The Roy Reed Reception will be beforehand, but the lecture will be free and open to the public, according to the news release.

Andrea Johnson-Smith was the project news editor from 2017-2018. She was a copy editor for the Arkansas Traveler and editor of the Hill Magazine from 2018-2019. Andrea was also a reporter and photographer for the Arkansas Traveler.

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