Dr. Al Delahaye

1929-2021 | Founder of the Department of Mass Communication

Dr. Alfred Newton Delahaye, professor emeritus of journalism and author of two Nicholls histories, founded what is today the Department of Mass Communication.

In fall 1957 he taught the first journalism course ever offered at Nicholls, and in 1973 was instrumental in establishing a degree program called communication arts.

He was born June 4, 1929, near Brusly in West Baton Rouge Parish. At Port Allen High School, he worked as the janitor’s helper. He ranked third academically in the class of 1946 and was cited at graduation for never having missed a day of high school.

In the summer of 1946 he entered LSU as a journalism major. He was a 40-cents-an-hour student worker in the auditor’s office, except for the time spent as a news editor on The Reveille. After his 1949 LSU graduation, he reported for the Franklinton Era-Leader until June 1950 when he began graduate studies in journalism at LSU, working as a graduate assistant. As he neared his August 1951 graduation, he asked his draft board to induct him without delay. About a week later he was in Marine Corps boot camp in San Diego.

Upon reporting to Camp Pendleton at Oceanside, Calif., Delahaye was measured for a snowsuit because he would be in an aggressor platoon. While inquiring about officer candidate school, Delahaye came to the attention of a major who wanted him because of his typing skill. Delahaye then found himself behind a desk in a G-2 office, except when he was undergoing cold-weather and advanced infantry training or involved in “combat exercises.” During a lull at umpire headquarters during a desert exercise near Barstow, Sgt. Delahaye heard the informal comments of legendary Gen. Lewis “Chesty” Puller. 

He continued in the G-2 office, even after getting his military occupational specialty changed from “intelligence man” to “combat correspondent.” He did not serve in Korea because the major for whom he worked had to be stateside to look after his wife, who was recovering from tuberculosis, and their three small children. 

While on active duty, Delahaye covered a variety show featuring performers from his unit along with Jane Russell and Robert Mitchum; it was a fund-raiser for the Iwo Jima flag-raising monument in Washington, D.C. On weekends Delahaye often visited movie and television studios in or near Hollywood, seeing up close such performers as Red Skelton and Marilyn Monroe. He actually heard Harpo Marx speak at a fund-raiser.

Released from active duty, Delahaye joined the staff of the twice-a-week Houma newspapers of publisher John B. Gordon. He was one of only two full-time news staff members. His partner covered police and sports, and he covered meetings of public bodies and wrote features and editorials, Both took and engraved photos and handled general news. Delahaye also worked as a stringer for United Press.

In 1955 he became the founding president of LSU School of Journalism Alumni.

In 1957 he left Houma for Nicholls. His starting salary was $6,000 a year, and his titles were instructor of journalism and director of publications and public information. Nicholls bought a Crown Graphic camera, and Delahaye turned a White Hall closet into a darkroom, producing pictures for campus and area publications.

In 1959 he was among the first Americans to visit post-World War II Russia. At the opening of the American Exposition, his group, guests of the American Embassy, joined in a toast with Vice President Richard Nixon and Premier Nikita Khrushchev. Delahaye claimed their glasses as souvenirs moments after Nixon and Khrushchev put them down.

At Nicholls, Delahaye soon became the primary founder and coordinator of the Hall of Fame and the Alumni Federation. He started the first regularly published student handbook, The Paddle, and the alumni publication, The Colonel. In 1962 he chose an artist to create a cartoon colonel, which Delahaye popularized as a decal sold by The Nicholls Worth. That figure was popular for 42 years. Years later he designed the university crest and got a professional artist to execute his design.

In 1965 Delahaye began work on a doctorate at the University of Missouri School of Journalism. He spent the next year at Nicholls and then returned to Missouri as the lecturer in the beginning news writing class; during one fall semester, the class numbered 344 students. He supervised reporting labs and during one semester taught a graduate class. He received his Ph.D. in 1970.

“I was teaching ideal students under ideal conditions at Missouri,” he said, “but they would succeed with or without me.  So I returned to Nicholls where I thought I could make a difference.”

In 1969 he began about 12 years of just classroom teaching – journalism and English courses, mostly technical writing, When Dr. David Boudreaux allowed him to teach two sophomore journalism classes every semester, a solid foundation for a journalism program was in place. In 1972 he spent the summer in The Netherlands at the Amsterdam Institute for the Science of the Press.

In 1973 Delahaye helped to establish the Faculty Senate and then went on to serves as corresponding secretary for five years.

A 1973 survey of students indicated the viability of a journalism degree program, and so the state board approved one in communication arts.  (To have called it journalism would have aroused LSU opposition, Delahaye said.)

The communication arts program gave students a choice of business or creative options.  Delahaye taught all the writing and editing courses, Bob Blazier and Ron Simeral the broadcasting courses. Delahaye was the unofficial coordinator of the degree program, which had no budget, no departmental status and no clearly defined faculty until 1990. The first communication arts degree was awarded in 1975.

In 1972 Delahaye became co-editor of the bibliography section of Journalism Quarterly, a responsibility he then held for about 17 years. In 1974 he became the founding president of the Nicholls chapter of the National Honor Society of Phi Kappa Phi. In the early 1980s, Delahaye edited The Temple, the publication of Phi Kappa Theta, national social fraternity.

Throughout his teaching career, he meticulously red-inked major and minor errors sentence by sentence. His thorough exams consisted of discussion and recall questions, and, when appropriate, written and edited matter. He almost never missed or canceled a class or cut one short, attending conventions only in August. He never gave a “bubble-in” test, but his largest writing class at Nicholls never exceeded 44 students.

When Donald J. Ayo became university president in 1983, Delahaye once again became director of publications and public information but continued to teach two advanced journalism courses each fall and spring. He also began a weekly faculty-staff newsletter, Word, for which he did all of the reporting (sports stories excepted) for six and a half years. In 1984 Delahaye was among the first faculty members to receive the title of distinguished service professor.

In 1987 the state board called in out-of-state consultants to evaluate journalism programs across the state. The Nicholls program received more positive statements and fewer negative ones than any other journalism program in Louisiana. The consultants recommended placing faculty and facilities in one building, giving the program a budget and departmental status and setting a goal of national accreditation.

In 1990 Delahaye became a professor emeritus, but continued to teach mass communication courses as an adjunct. He also continued to coordinate mass communication scholarships and awards, which sometimes totaled about $18,000 a year. He worked as a volunteer in his Talbot Hall office every day, even after he stopped teaching. His attitude was “I’ve got to be productive.”

He never said no when someone asked him to edit something. For about five semesters, he taught mass communication courses for nothing, because the university semester after semester refused to pay him the $2,000 he asked. He would say:  “I’d rather mow someone’s lawn for nothing than accept payment of $2.50.”

In 1999 and 2005 the Nichols Foundation published two volumes of Nicholls State University history researched and written by Delahaye:  “The Elkins-Galliano Years, 1948-1983,” and “The Ayo Years, 1983-2003.” Delahaye planned and coordinated every aspect of the printing, which was paid by the Lorio Foundation of Thibodaux. All sales income, about $30,000, made possible a mass communication scholarship named for Walter M. Lowrey, who was instrumental in hiring Delahaye and getting the first journalism course offered.

In retirement Delahaye, the only Nicholls retiree with an office on campus, enjoyed reading four or five newspapers a day, summer vacations in New York, writing articles and feature stories for university publications and, when asked, red-inking The Nicholls Worth.

Among his most successful former students are Joey Kennedy, a Pulitzer-Prize winner for editorials in 1972; Ken Wells, a Pulitzer-Prize runner-up, writer of fiction and nonfiction books, and a Page One editor of The Wall Street Journal; Tresha Mabile, a television writer and producer, whose work includes five documentaries on Afghanistan and Iraq; and John Gravois, who covered the Bush I and Clinton White Houses for the Houston Post.

Delahaye, who often said he could never be bored in a world of words, people and ideas, was awarded an honorary doctorate by Nicholls in fall 2008. In March 2009, he was honored at a fund-raising banquet attended by about 170 friends, relatives and former students. He was presented with an oak, which today grows in the quadrangle next to a bronze plaque, which honors his more than 52 years of service to Nicholls.

LSU Hall of Fame Induction

A Life of Service

An Oral History