A few words about inspiration, and Jack Lancaster, before SNDLOU

I’ve been thinking lately about inspiration.

Five days from now, SND Louisville will be well under way, and most of our industry would agree, if we’re not walking away energized and excited about creative potential in its wake, we’re in need of shock therapy.

It’s a rite of fall (though I know some people who would say the competition judgings provide their annual inspiration fix) no doubt buoyed by the presence of the business’s most creative minds, but I’m thinking more about who inspired said minds. Don’t let anyone fool you: Our side of the biz can’t make you famous, but it does lend itself to helping others out in a way that means a few people can say they had a hand in launching or elevating hundreds of careers. I can’t help but wondering, who was their inspiration? Who inspired those who will be in Louisville inspiring others?

Jack Lancaster

Jack Lancaster

This isn’t an obituary. There’s a point I’ll tie together momentarily. But you should know that Jack Lancaster died last week. He was 63 and had spent more than two decades as the adviser to the Oklahoma State campus newspaper, the Daily O’Collegian. He also taught News Editing II, the capstone course for journalism majors and the only course offered during my time there (class of 2001) that emphasized design.

His former students — some former classmates of mine — have already eulogized him appropriately. Me, I’ll always appreciate him far more for getting out of the biz and buying the old Stables bar in Stillwater, Oklahoma, five or so years ago and decorating it to the hilt with pages his former students wrote and designed.

In 2001, I was sports editor of the O’Collegian when a plane crash killed 10 members of the university’s basketball program. I couldn’t handle the fallout from covering such a close-to-home tragedy, and I told the paper’s editor I was quitting. Jack called me into his office and instead of begging me to reconsider, he talked about the situation as if it were an inanimate object: “Crutch, I think you’re doing the wrong thing, but I understand why. I trust your judgment.” Of course that assertion of faith was more than enough to send me straight to my desk to get back to work.

Our careers are laced with those moments: Those black-or-white crossroads we stand at, knowingly or otherwise, that set our courses and pull in our sails. One minute you’re going to grad school, and then suddenly you’re dropping out for a full-time job designing newspapers. And for all the students or young designers who will be in Louisville hoping to spend some time with someone who will give them advice, a job, or a critique, there will be even more industry veterans there who would not be in a position to give advice, a job, or a critique without people like Jack Lancaster in their lives.

I don’t want this to be about me. The fact is, if I have ever helped you, Jack Lancaster has helped you. I hear his voice in nearly every design situation that arises Last week, I was telling a colleague to, “Push the white space outside,” on a project she was working on, and I think I matched Jack Lancaster’s tone and inflections note-for-note as I said those five words for what felt like the zetabillionth time. He’s not the only one, but he’s the one who’s on my mind as I write this.

That’s why we’re here.

That’s why we’re bound for Louisville. For as much as this workshop is about old friends and connections and bourbon, somebody’s life is going to change next week. Somebody is going to find that little nugget of inspiration that sits in their back pocket until right up until the exact moment they need it.

Here’s to those mentors past — whether they are still around to know it or otherwise — who make it possible.