Remembering Albert "Flip" De Luca
By Khalil Garriott ('04)
There I sat, feeling dejected and rejected, on the steps of the Anthony–Seeger Hall basement. I was a JMU junior faced with one of the hardest decisions of my life up until that point. Recently passed over for my dream job with The Breeze, I needed guidance about accepting a different editorial position for my senior year – or not returning on staff at all.
Only one person crossed my mind as a confidant, mentor and advice–giver. That person was Albert "Flip" De Luca.
Mr. D. had been my academic adviser, Breeze adviser, professor and journalism role model. I asked him for his thoughts on my situation, and boy, did he have some. We chatted, one–on–one, for upwards of two hours on that busy February afternoon. Mostly, it was me ranting and raving, venting and blabbing, in between his opinionated interjections. I don't remember exactly what he said, but five years later, I haven't forgotten that discussion.
What typically would have been a formal teacher–student conversation with most other professors was an interaction with a true friend–to–friend dynamic. Mr. D. was a great sounding board for a frustrated, confused young journalist who all of a sudden had doubts about his future and his career. For that, I'm still grateful, and I know I made the right decision because of his help.
The SMAD alumni network is a close, nostalgic one not replicated by any other throughout the whole university. When we heard of Mr. D.'s unfortunate passing at age 57 this year, the outpouring of support, memories and condolences was immediate, widespread and, for me, tear–jerking. Each of his former students attests that there was nobody like Mr. D. before, and there surely won't be anybody like him after. Witty and a perfectionist, Mr. D. had a wealth of knowledge to share not just about journalism – but about life.
I miss the countless hours in The Breeze office, convention trips, end–of–the–year parties at his immaculate home (it wasn't me who spilled on his spotless white carpet, I swear!), staying after class to grill him on my course options, receiving his pointed criticism (I needed it, trust me) and much more. His personality was as infectious as his editor's eye was sharp, and you couldn't help but admire his many years of experience in the field.
Simply put, the man was hardly ever wrong. And he trained his students to be that way. I recall spending hours on a front–page news story, making it as tight and accurate as possible, yet somehow Mr. D. found ways to improve it. He always took the reporting and editing process to the next level, with a philosophy that every piece of copy could be cleaner. What a man of great passion for his craft – and a greater desire to share it with others.
Mr. D.'s influence on me as a student journalist became so prevalent that I could constantly hear his voice in my head as I designed pages, wrote headlines and put finishing touches on stories. But that's just it; nothing was ever "final" in his mind. He taught me that when we in the media rest on a story or when we stop searching for answers, we do the public a great injustice. As a professional in the field, I now embrace that approach and I'm forever indebted to him for that and many other words of wisdom.
Receiving a "Nice lede today, Khalil" or "Way to triple–check your sources, Khalil" from Mr. D. was like getting the official stamp of approval on a job well done. I began to strive for those pats on the back on a daily basis, though I doubt he ever really knew that. If it had been a week or so without any individual positive feedback from him, I knew I had to hit one out of the park the next time up, and I wanted him to applaud. If he didn't, I had to keep going. I had to keep interviewing, writing and editing. Or, sometimes, scrap the current approach and start over.
Without coming out and saying he demanded it, Mr. D. more importantly expected perfection. Much of journalism is black and white – there's right and there's wrong. But the great ones like Mr. D. find the grey areas and expose them for what they are. "Be consistent. Memorize AP Style. Follow best practices of design. Don't leave the reader hanging!" These were commonplace reinforcements from Mr. D., and though they were sometimes tough to swallow, they made you better. He made us all better.
Thank you, Mr. D., for pushing me to become better. Thank you for challenging me. Thank you for pronouncing my full name right at graduation! Thank you for sharing your experiences with me. And thank you for advising me when I needed it most. Near and far, all of SMAD misses you, and here's to hoping we can carry on your legacy. You have my word that I'll certainly try.
About the Author
School of Media Arts and Design graduate Khalil Garriott ('04) earned his degree in print journalism and a minor in communications studies (public relations focus). He is a Web editor for the NFL Players Association in Washington, D.C. Garriott has also worked as a producer/columnist at AOL Sports, an interactive content producer at WashingtonPost.com and a freelance writer for Major League Soccer. He is currently pursuing a Masters of Professional Studies degree from Georgetown University. Garriott came to know Albert "Flip" De Luca through four years of working for The Breeze, as well as having De Luca as a professor and academic advisor.