Ken Dyar (’76) and Rachel Rhodes-Dyar (’76) -- Laura Dyar Scholarship for University journalism students
Gone with the Wind was Margaret Mitchell’s most famous work, but a virtually unknown collection of her writings is having a much more direct influence on Georgia Southern students.
Ken Dyar (’76) and Rachel Rhodes-Dyar (’76) have endowed the Laura Dyar Scholarship for University journalism students in memory of Ken’s great-grandmother – one of only a handful of women in Georgia working as reporters in the early to mid-20th century. “I think she was a modern woman before modern women became what they are,” said Rachel. “Laura Dyar was quite a character.”
Both Laura and young Margaret Mitchell were members of the statewide organization of journalists, the Georgia Press Association. “Laura became interested in the Georgia Press Association and she met Margaret Mitchell at one of their gatherings,” Rachel said.
“Most people don’t know that Margaret Mitchell was a reporter for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution,” she added. Mitchell’s news stories and columns were bylined “Peggy” Mitchell, and she had become a well-established journalist before she ever penned the iconic Southern novel that would bring her international acclaim and significant wealth.
Their meeting began a friendship that resulted in a years-long exchange of letters, both typed and hand-written, in which Mitchell shared details about her everyday life, family and career.
“They became big ‘buds’ and they corresponded – not just over a couple of weeks – but many years,” Rachel said. “We have a letter handwritten by Margaret Mitchell to Laura that reads, ‘My husband says having a wife for a novelist is great because all he has to do is go to cocktail parties and meet people.’ It was a lot of fun for him,” said Rachel. “So, the correspondence went back and forth.”
After Laura died, the letters stayed in the family and were eventually passed down to Ken as the eldest grandchild. A few years later, Ken and Rachel loaned the letters to an organization that was creating an exhibit on Mitchell’s career as a journalist. Before they were ever seen by the public, the letters were misplaced. A subsequent lawsuit brought a monetary settlement – compensation, but less than complete satisfaction.
“We had lost a valuable piece of our family history,” said Rachel. But, happily, the funds became the basis for the scholarship endowment, and there was a legal agreement that if the letters ever surfaced, the Dyar family would have the opportunity to reclaim them.
The Dyars contacted the University Foundation, set up the endowment agreement and finalized their contribution to establish the scholarship.
“It was something we always wanted to do. We did it in Laura’s memory because she was a friend of Margaret Mitchell and because journalism is such a big part of the family,” said Rachel, herself a former reporter as were many of Ken’s ancestors. And, she said, students who study journalism can find themselves equipped to pursue many different types of careers. “Journalism isn’t limited to newspapers and magazines. So many careers have to use those skills.”
But the story of the letters doesn’t end there. Missing for six years, they were eventually found where they had been misplaced at the home of one of the exhibit organizers and were returned to the Dyar family. “We’ve got them back now and they’re safe,” Rachel said.
The saga of the lost letters had a happy ending, but Margaret Mitchell was not so fortunate.
The postman delivered Peggy’s final correspondence to Laura in 1949. “We have a letter,” said Rachel. “It is the last one that Margaret Mitchell wrote her, and on the back in Laura’s hand is written, ‘This is the last letter I’m ever going to get from my beloved Peggy, because she was killed this morning by a hit-and-run driver, and I am so upset I had to take to my bed…’”
Laura, active at an age when most would have retired, became affectionately known in Press Association circles as “Mother Dyar.” She passed away at the age of 83, but not before she witnessed her friend become one of Southern literature’s best-known figures.
Through Ken and Rachel’s generosity and the Laura Dorough Dyar Scholarship, Laura will herself be forever enshrined as a role model for Georgia Southern students who aspire to carry on her journalistic legacy.