Robert VanLandingham will be one of 10 alumni and friends of the University of Georgia Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication inducted into the 2011 Grady Fellowship. The ceremony is scheduled for Nov. 17 at UGA’s Georgia Center for Continuing Education. Of the 10 inductees, VanLandingham is one of three to be inducted posthumously into the fellowship’s Sanford Circle, which “honors absent friends whose achievements and generosity of spirit remain with Grady,” according to a news release.
Further paying homage to VanLandingham, Grady College Dean Cully Clark traveled to Cairo last week and presented the surviving family and The Messenger with a copy of a Nov. 16, 1941 Atlanta Journal feature written by VanLandingham. The presentation took place at the Cairo-Grady County Chamber of Commerce.
The article, which outlined work of Grady College students, featured VanLandingham’s byline, a major accomplishment for a young journalist who had then yet to graduate college.
Dean Clark, also a Grady County native, shared fond memories, both personal and professional, of VanLandingham during the presentation.
“We have people in our lives who don’t know in what awe and inspiration they are held, and Bobby is one of those for me,” he said, recalling being a student in VanLandingham’s Sunday School class as a youngster.
“Bobby is a journalist. When he left the dealership in 1982 he fell back in love with what he set out to be in the 1940s at Grady College. Throughout the 80s, he had a running commentary on the Reagan years and its impact on Grady County that was Pulitzer Prize-quality, and when Bobby wrote for The Cairo Messenger there was no better community paper in the world.”
VanLandingham was born in Cairo on March 6, 1921 to the late Robert Roscoe and Mabel Maxwell VanLandingham.
He graduated from Cairo High School in 1938; Wingate Junior College, Wingate, N.C., in 1940; and from the UGA Grady College in 1942.
After college VanLandingham joined the U.S. Coast Guard, serving aboard an escort frigate in the southwest Pacific.
A working man of varied persuasions, VanLandingham worked as a principal and seventh grade teacher at Calvary School before joining operations of his family business, which was for many years the local dealership for Pontiac cars, International trucks, Farmall tractors and other equipment.
VanLandingham operated the firm until 1982, when he signed on with The Cairo Messenger as a staff writer. He was “instrumental in improving the news content” of Cairo’s community paper, according to his obituary in the July 23, 2003 edition of The Messenger.
“VanLandingham considered The Cairo Messenger ‘his paper’ and this community ‘his community,’ and he had a deep affection and devotion to both institutions,” the obituary reads.
VanLandingham was associate editor for The Messenger from 2000 until his death, July 21, 2003.
In addition to his working life, VanLandingham was involved in a number of local civic and government institutions. He was a lifetime member of the Cairo First United Methodist Church and a charter member of the Cairo Rotary Club.
He served on the Cairo City Council for 16 years and the Grady County Board of Education for 14 years. Strongly committed to and supportive of Grady General Hospital and the local medical community, he served for around 20 years as member and chairman of the Grady County Hospital Authority.
He remained active on the authority and was still its active chairman at his time of death.
He was married to Mary Louise Nelson VanLandingham for 57 years. She preceded him in death Oct. 24, 2001. The two had four sons, Robert, Richard, Thomas and John.
Other 2011 Grady Fellowship inductees include: David Adelman, Decatur; Ed Bastian, Atlanta, Conrad Fink, Athens; Julie Moran, Santa Monica, Calif.; Arnold Punaro, McLean, Va.; Bill Simpson, Athens; and Julie Winskie, New York City. Other Sanford Circle inductees are: Jesse Outlar and Lamar Trotti.