Feature Stories Campus Events All Stories

Louis W. Hodges, Knight Professor of Journalism Ethics Emeritus at Washington and Lee, Dies at 83

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.

“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.”

Louis Hodges was born on Jan. 24, 1933, in Eupora, Mississippi. 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. His dissertation was “A Christian Analysis of Selected Contemporary Theories of Racial Prejudice.”

In 1960, Hodges started out at W&L teaching religion; he became the Fletcher Otey Thomas Professor of Bible in 1987.

In 1975, he expanded his sphere of interest to found and direct the Society and the Professions Program, 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 institutes often featured keynote speakers of national renown, and those lectures were published in an annual volume. He also established the Summer Institute for Executives, which related the humanities to contemporary business issues and their ethical implications.

After the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation awarded an endowed professorship to W&L, Hodges joined the Department of Journalism and Mass Communications; he became the first holder of that professorship in 1997. He retired from the university in 2003.

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.

In 1969, he published a book, “The Christian and His Decisions: An Introduction to Christian Ethics,” co-authored with Harmon L. Smith. He contributed articles and reviews to such publications as Religion in Life, Youth Teacher and Counselor, Christian Advocate and The American Review. He served on the editorial board of the Journal of Mass Media Ethics.

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.

He had been a Gurney Harris Kearns Fellow in Religion at Duke University; a University Fellow at the University of Virginia, studying Asian religion; and a fellow at the Hastings Center, which focuses on bioethics and the public interest. While holding a J. William Fulbright Lectureship at Osmani University, in Hyderabad, India, he lectured on the ethics of journalism at 14 Indian universities. In 1986, he won a Fellowship for Excellence in the Teaching of Journalism Ethics from the Poynter Institute for Media Studies.

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.

A man of many interests, Hodges was an avid hunter and skilled gunsmith and thoroughly enjoyed beekeeping. An ordained Methodist minister, he performed many weddings and funerals and served as a guest pastor in churches throughout Rockbridge County.

For W&L’s baccalaureate address in 1982 — one of several that he delivered — Hodges talked to the graduating seniors about faith. “It is . . . our faith at Washington and Lee . . . that knowledge is never merely an end in itself. Knowledge is useful and must be used as an essential means to meet human needs.”

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 on Saturday, Feb. 13, at 2 p.m. at the Trinity United Methodist Church, Lexington.

The Roanoke Times published a warm tribute to Prof. Hodges, which you can read online.

And the Society of Christian Ethics has published the tribute that Harlan Beckley, the Fletcher Otey Thomas Professor of Religion Emeritus, delivered at Hodges’ funeral.