May 2013 Cover
Volume 81 | Issue 3
May 2013

Executive Director's Column: The Magic of One

Marsha Herman-Betzen

A month before the annual conference in St. Louis, and in preparation for our 100th anniversary, we began the task of digitizing all of our 25-year-old video tape masters. These broadcast-quality tapes were of no use to us in their present three-quarter inch form and were occupying a hefty amount of premium storage space. Since I was the only one in the office who was around 25 years ago, I knew we had captured some priceless and irreplaceable interviews with many Association legends who are no longer with us. ThereMHB were filmed conversations with Dick Blackburn, Greer Wilson, Adele McMillian, Bill Rion, and C. Shaw Smith preserved in a medium where each icon came alive, if only for a short time. I know you will enjoy seeing these interviews in the 100th anniversary museum, April 6–10, 2014, at the JW Marriott Orlando Grande Lakes.

One of those Association stars who forever will hold a special place in my heart is C. Shaw Smith. I met C. Shaw at my first annual conference in 1982 in the lobby of the Hyatt Regency Hotel in Dallas. I was 33 and had been working at the Oklahoma State University (OSU) Student Union for two years as the manager of conferences and scheduling. I had just returned from dinner with the OSU group and was still dazed from watching all of the hugging and carrying on by so many energetic delegates. Even though before this strange experience I had considered myself a flaming extrovert, that night, feeling so overwhelmed, I just wanted to make my way through the enthusiastic crowd as inconspicuously as possible, get to my room quickly, and lock the door.

While looking at my shoes so as not to make eye contact with anyone, I was startled by this gentle touch on my arm. I looked up and saw a rather old, portly, jovial, cigar-smoking man, wearing a bow tie, who spoke with the most charming and genteel Southern accent: C. Shaw Smith. He was like a character out of a novel, an impression that was confirmed many years later when his son told me they referred to C. Shaw as “Big Daddy.”

We sat on the couch in the lobby and talked for quite some time. He made me laugh and seemed genuinely interested in what I had to say. When I excused myself to go to bed, I saw him stop someone else who was walking alone, just as he had done with me, almost as if he had picked us out of the crowd.

The next evening after the banquet, there was C. Shaw, perched on the same couch in the lobby holding court. “Miss Oklahoma,” he cried, “did you have a good day? Come on over here and tell me about it!” Knowing he didn’t remember my name, Miss Oklahoma was just fine as I walked over to sit with the others and hear all of his remarkable stories.

And that’s how it was, every conference until his passing in 1992. He rarely spent the time with his contemporaries or his friends. His joy was getting to know all of the newcomers, the young people just beginning their careers and looking for a professional home in the Association. C. Shaw was elected president of both ACUI and the National Association of Campus Activities (NACA) and was given each association’s highest award. He loved college unions and student activities; NACA and ACUI (yes, it is possible to love both organizations); and Davidson College.

Digitizing the videos brought back memories. We used some of those old interviews in the Visionaries documentary, airing on PBS later this year. In a clip from 1988, C. Shaw said: “You couldn’t have done it without the Association, because that’s the place you got the spark, that’s the place you got understanding, that’s the place you got the encouragement to do the things you never knew you could do.”

I continue to appreciate the magic spark C. Shaw created in me to do things I never knew I could do. I now know why I’m so drawn to this Maya Angelou quote: “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

I think C. Shaw would have agreed.