Martha Shepard ’66 Retires as Editor of Rhodes Magazine
By Lucy Kellison ’13
Those who were working in the Rhodes Communications Office on the wintry day in 1985 when Martha Hunter Shepard ’66 came in to finish up her new-hire paperwork all share a memory in common—Martha’s yellow boots. Loyd Templeton ’56, who was head of communications when Shepard was hired, still recalls that day.
“It was raining cats and dogs out,” says Templeton. “Martha was covered in rainwear and was wearing bright yellow, knee-high rain boots. I took to teasing her about her ‘rubber duckie boots’ until I got that elegant Grace Kelly stare of hers that told me enough was enough.”
Although Shepard no longer wears those yellow boots some 28 years later, she has maintained the spunk and ambition she brought to the office. Throughout her tenure as editor of Rhodes magazine, Shepard has left an indelible mark on the publication, the office and the college. In February 2013, after over a quarter century of service to the college, Shepard retired from her position as editor, leaving behind a strong legacy.
“I don’t think that the college could have asked for a personality more suited to the work Martha has done with Rhodes magazine,” says John Rone ’71, director of College Events and the Meeman Center at Rhodes. “Martha has always been able, in a very stylish and elegant way, to tell the Rhodes story. She has a wonderful ear for the right phrase, and anything that one could want in a good writer is found in Martha. We’ve been so blessed to have her as editor.”
But for Shepard, Rhodes has meant much more than just a career. A 1966 graduate of the college, which was then called Southwestern, Shepard majored in art, and took a variety of courses in English. During her tenure as a student, she served as editor of the literary magazine on campus.
“At that time, everything was smaller in every sense—the student population, number of buildings, and of course, tuition,” says Shepard. “But I was able to take a variety of courses, and got such a wonderful education. I remember that people always used to talk about the warmth of the school and the friendliness of the people. It was true then, and it’s true now.”
Shepard also has strong family ties to Rhodes. Her sister, Susan Hunter Suggs, is a 1963 graduate, and Shepard met her husband, Randall Shepard ’64, while the two were students at the college. Both her nephew, Welch Suggs ’95, and her son, Hunter Shepard ’97, are Rhodes graduates. And Shepard’s father, the Rev. Alex W. Hunter, received an honorary doctor of divinity degree from Southwestern in 1958.
“My dad was a Presbyterian minister, and while we lived in Memphis, he was good friends with members of the faculty and presidents Charles Diehl and Peyton Rhodes. When I was growing up in Memphis, I would spend time on campus with my dad, and my sister would always say, ‘I want to go to school there.’ And how could you resist? We both ended up here, and Rhodes really has been a family school for us.”
After graduation, Shepard went to work as an assistant editor at the United Methodist Publishing House in Nashville for three years. From there, she did copywriting and marketing for Holiday Inns, which at the time was headquartered in Memphis. She was working as editor of the Memphis Daily News when the brand-new position of magazine editor opened up at Rhodes.
“In college, I took so many English courses and had an interest in journalism that I always thought I would enter some form of publishing after graduation,” says Shepard. “When the position became available at Rhodes, I thought, if I could do this wonderful job while serving my alma mater, I would be so happy. And I have been!”
Shepard assumed the role of editor of what was known in 1985 as the tabloid Rhodes Today. The first alumni magazine was published in the 1920s under the editorship of Dr. Robert MacQueen. It contained three main sections: Campus News, Alumni News and Class Notes. With a few added embellishments, as Shepard puts it, the magazine has kept the same basic format over its 90 years in existence, and it is now distributed three times a year to alumni, parents and other members of the Rhodes community around the world.
Shepard says she enjoyed publishing some special editions of the magazine, including the 1998 issue that celebrated the 150th anniversary of the college, President James H. Daughdrill’s retirement and President Bill Troutt’s arrival, both in 1999, and President Troutt’s 10th year as president in 2009. For the dedication of the Barret Library in 2005, Shepard oversaw a magazine issue covering the new building that included gorgeous photography of the library taken by the building’s architects.
Though Shepard has retired, she plans on staying connected to the college by attending on-campus concerts and lectures, and of course by keeping in touch with her colleagues and friends. In her spare time, Shepard says she looks forward to volunteering with adult literacy and possibly as a docent at a Memphis museum.
A longtime friend and colleague of Shepard, Rone says that a line spoken at his own Rhodes graduation reminds him of Shepard and her lasting relationship with the school.
“Dr. William L. Bowden ’48, who was president of this college from 1969 to 1973, gave the address at my graduation in June 1971. A line from his speech has always stuck with me, and it goes something like this: ‘Seniors, Southwestern does not belong to you, but you belong to Southwestern.’ To me, this really applies to Martha’s relationship with the college in that she will always be a part of Rhodes. What’s more, she will always be a part of the historical record of the college. When people in the future go to the archives and want to read about Rhodes, thank goodness we will have the Martha Shepard era to share with them.”