Louis Wendell Hodges, the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation Professor of Journalism Ethics Emeritus at Washington and Lee University, died yesterday, Feb. 8, from complications of a severe head injury he received in a fall six years ago. He was 83.
Hodges taught religion and ethics at W&L for 43 years. In 1997, he joined the Department of Journalism and Mass Communications and became the first to hold the Knight Foundation’s endowed professorship.
“With his thoughtful and visionary incorporation of ethics into all aspects of our liberal arts curriculum, Lou embodied principles and values that we hold dear at W&L,” said President Kenneth P. Ruscio. “He made a lasting impact that we will uphold and build upon for years to come.”
In 1960, Hodges started teaching religion at W&L. He then became the Fletcher Otey Thomas Professor of Bible in 1987.
Meanwhile, he expanded his sphere of interest to found and direct the Society and the Professions Program in 1975, which allowed undergraduates in business, journalism, law and medicine to study applied ethics. As part of that program, he started annual two-day institutes that brought practitioners in those four areas to campus to work together with students on case studies. The Department of Journalism and Mass Communications still holds biannual ethics institutes that invite professionals to Lexington to interact with students and faculty.
Hodges was an engaging and intelligent person who was more than willing to share his knowledge with others, said Aly Colón, W&L’s current Knight professor.
“He’s really, I think, one of the pioneers for the journalism area in highlighting and providing ethical foundations, theories and a process for engaging the real world in how ethics can be applied there,” Colón said.
Among his many professional involvements were the Association for Education in Journalism, the Society of Professional Journalists, the American Society of Christian Ethics, and Investigative Reporters and Editors.
At W&L, he served on several committees that encompassed such topics as the curriculum and coeducation, and advised the University Fellowship of Christian Concern and the University Christian Association. He was faculty advisor to the latter group in 1961, when its plan to invite Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. to campus was rejected by the Board of Trustees.
Active in his community, Hodges served on the Virginia State Advisory Committee to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights from 1968 to 1974; chaired the Lexington-Rockbridge Council on Human Relations from 1965 to 1968; and served as first vice president of the board of directors for the Lexington-Rockbridge United Fund in 1972.
He served as president of the Rockbridge Area Housing Corp. from 1968 to 1974, the organization responsible for the low-income housing development on Diamond Hill known as Thompson Court. Hodges also advised local citizens during the establishment of the Rockbridge Area Hospice.
Louis Hodges was born on Jan. 24, 1933, in Eupora, Miss. He obtained a B.A. in history from Millsaps College (1954) and a B.D. (1957) and Ph.D. (1960) in theological studies from the Duke Divinity School at Duke University. He is survived by his wife of nearly 62 years, Helen Davis Hodges; his sons, John David Hodges (and his wife, Linda, and her children) and George Kenneth Hodges (and his wife, Nina, and their daughter, Christine); seven great-grandchildren; and four great-great-grandchildren.
A memorial service will be held at 2 p.m. Saturday, at the Trinity United Methodist Church, Lexington.