Ohio Today: For Alumni and Friends of Ohio University

Being human

Alumnus Martin Savidge shares his work, family and personal side with Ohio University.

 Martin Savidge
Martin Savidge

Watch an excerpt of Martin Savidge's commencement address to Ohio University's Class of 2003.

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By Joan Slattery Wall

Blis Savidge just couldn't stop herself.

Walking across the College Green on Friday with her father, commencement speaker Martin Savidge, and mother, also named Blis, the 9-year-old lit into a broad smile and gave an enthusiastic wave to the camera recording the family's visit to campus.

Perhaps she was taking a moment to practice for the acting career she says she'd like to pursue. Or maybe she simply has in her a little bit of her father, a seven-year anchor and correspondent for CNN.

While Blis was hamming it up for the campus videographer, Martin Savidge was remembering the days he spent on campus working toward his bachelor's degree in journalism.

"It's changed some, but it hasn't changed dramatically," said Savidge, who had returned to Ohio University just one other time since his graduation in 1981. "The layout of the city, the layout of campus, is just the way I remember it. Maybe it's a little prettier."

When it came time for Savidge to address the Class of 2003, he shared with them tales of his job. When people ask what he does, he tells them: "I'm a journalist by trade, but I am a human being by profession, which means I'm the journalist second."

Although he has covered many wars, he explained, some of the Marines he was with during the latest combat in Iraq were going into battle for the first time. In what Savidge described as an awkward moment, some of them came to him to ask what they should expect.

"I could see the fear in their eyes," he said. "The only problem is they couldn't see the fear in my eyes.

"I told them, 'Trust in your training and rely on the people around you,'" Savidge said. "'And above all, never forget you are a human being, and the people you go up against and fight are human beings, too.'"

He told the graduates he'd offer them the same advice.

"Don't be afraid to occasionally fail in your job, because you may find that you succeed in your profession," he said.

Meeting Savidge in person, you'd see that behind the debonair, public-has-a-right-to-know-insistent journalist, Savidge really is, first and foremost, a human being by profession.

Making his way to a whirlwind of media interviews Friday at a leisurely pace in jeans, sport coat and T-shirt, Savidge was simply himself - flexible, at ease and approachable. His trip to campus included a tour of the Radio-Television Communication Building, where he reminisced in the newsroom and radio and television broadcast rooms.

"It was kind of reassuring that I could still remember it," he said, noting that not much except the technology had changed. He even humored the folks at WOUB with a laugh-filled re-enactment of an old picture they'd found of him. It showed him walking down the hall in his college days wearing a T-shirt with the logo of WOUB's "Lobster of Love" show, which he called a "goofy, weird radio drama" he hosted.

While Savidge shared with local media and campus representatives his experiences with CNN, his wife - holding his hand as often as she could - talked about her feelings when he goes off to cover war and her insight about him as a journalist.

"I think he has the ability to make you feel things," said Blis, obviously her husband's greatest fan. "He has a lot of emotion. There are times he can tell a story and I am almost weeping. He's very compassionate, and that's what you see. He's a very good storyteller."

Even though she often becomes frightened when he is amid danger, she respects his career - he calls it his "dream job" - and he acknowledges the sacrifices she makes to take care of family matters while he's gone, often for months at a time.

"I do think he's the best one out there," she said. "I feel like he ought to be out there, but then there are times when I think, 'Why does it have to be you?'"

Still, she trusts the man she often calls her "007," a nickname tied to his seemingly double lives in his career and at home.

"I've never questioned his love for his job and his love for his family," she said.

In addition to his wife and daughter, Savidge's son, Stehl, 10, also joined him on the visit to Ohio University. And his mother and brother, as well as Blis' mother, made the trip from the Savidge hometown of Cleveland to hear his commencement speech.

While his walk through campus and uptown Athens reminded him that he never did end up getting a class ring, he explained that he gets wrapped up in his college memories differently than those who sport Bobcat sweatshirts.

"I think the difference is I wear it professionally," he said. "Ohio University is what made me what I am as a journalist in the broadcast industry."

His reputation has grown as he's covered the world, reporting on the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks; school shootings in Arkansas and Oregon; wildfires in Florida; hurricanes Bonnie, Georges and Mitch; and wars in Bosnia, Kosovo, East Timor, Afghanistan and Iraq.

He credits his success to skill, persistence, patience and even a little bit of luck, which has come to him in both good and bad varieties.

"Sometimes you feel like you're missing a story and things aren't going right," he said. "As long as you realize it's going to change, you can at least be of the mindset to be ready when it does."

He also gives credit to the base he formed for his career as a student at Ohio University, which he chose to attend after hearing of the opportunities to work at the campus radio and TV stations.

"I hadn't just been taught something," he said, "I was doing something in college."

Now, he's still doing the same thing - what he tells students is "the best job in the world."

"It exposes you to so much in life - yeah, a lot of it bad - that is such a smack upside the head to make you realize how lucky you are," he said. "It's a very worthwhile dream."

Joan Slattery Wall is assistant editor of Ohio Today.

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