Speech: Dr. Elizabeth Toth, 2012 Educator Honoree


MARIA RUSSELL: Thank you, Keith, and good evening. Indeed, it’s an honor and pleasure to be a member of the original board of advisors that Betsy Ann Plank brought together and to watch the incredible growth of excellent programming created at The Plank Center in a very few short years by the Alabama faculty, staff, and volunteer leaders.

Today’s summit is one of those remarkable efforts, as is this annual tribute dinner. And again, I’m honored and pleased to be able to introduce and welcome my dear friend Elizabeth Toth on her well-deserved award. When I told someone I had to confine my remarks to three minutes, the friend sympathized and said, I could write a book about Elizabeth and it would be all good.

I, myself, could spend the entire three minutes telling you how Elizabeth has been my mentor for more than 25 years from the time I transitioned from the practice of public relations into teaching. But then I’d have to tell you how I miss having her with me at Newhouse, leaving us for Maryland, and how I still type emails eltoth@syr.edu, and then I wonder why they bounce back. Eight years later, I still resent Maryland.

But then it shouldn’t be all about me, so I interviewed a number of her former and current students who also wanted to write a book about Elizabeth. In their recollections and heartfelt notes, we can find the textbook characteristics of a mentor and interestingly enough, for those of you who were there today, they reflect the soft skills we discussed this afternoon.

Words like this, her door is always open. Being a professor, a department chair, and serving on so many committees, both on campus and on the national level, she is very busy, but when she meets with me, I know I always have her full attention. She guides with respect and without micromanaging. When I am lost, she offers several options, then lets me choose. When I have a hard time making decisions, she provides feedback and asks constructive questions. She has great candy in her office.

Dr. Toth engages her students in her own research, giving us amazing opportunities to publish with her. Throughout every storm, she has been dedicated to my success, has helped me maintain perspective and move forward. I love her sense of fashion, the scarves, the coats, the dresses.

Now, lest anyone think that all of her skills are in the soft category, she holds her students to the highest academic standards. In fact, a working professional in our executive master’s program dubbed Elizabeth “she who must be obeyed.” And I think we still have those T-shirts somewhere at Newhouse. He has since gone into education himself.

Perhaps the best student quote of all is this, “she made me believe that one day I, too, can be a mentor to my students. She has shown me the skills necessary for that role.” For all of us who have benefited from Elizabeth’s mentoring, it’s great to know she’s only an email away. Congratulations.


ELIZABETH TOTH: Thank you, Maria, so much, and believe me, I miss having my office next to you, as well. And again, thank you very much to The Plank Center Board of Trustees for this incredible honor. I am deeply appreciative.

I’d just like to thank a couple of people. One of them is my husband, Rich Toth. Rich started his journey with me at the same time I started my academic journey as an assistant professor at Southern Illinois University. I was, of course, the PRSSA chapter advisor and chair of the sequence.

And so, I called the St. Louis chapter PRSA president and said, I’d like to come up and meet you because there are several things I want you to do for my PRSSA chapter. And he did them all. So, this was somewhat impressive to me. We actually laugh about PR bringing us together, and certainly for the last 29 years, that has been the case.

But somebody who has also been in my life that I want to thank is Betsy Plank, because Betsy’s always been there for me, too, and I had no idea how our lives would be interwoven during my 32-year academic career. Whenever I called, Betsy came. Whether it be Southern Illinois University or Southern Methodist University or Syracuse University, she would just come and speak to my PRSSA chapter.

I was very fortunate to serve with her on two commissions on public relations education. Betsy really was the impetus behind the commissions. She felt it was critical that we establish standards for what undergraduate public relations education should be. And she made it clear that we had to meet every five years to publish and upgrade or update those standards and to promote them nationally.

We’ve spent many an evening together in the hallways of PRSA national conferences. I was fortunate enough to be able to go to her lovely apartment on the north side of Chicago. There wasn’t anything that I couldn’t ask Betsy to do that she would do for public relations education and particularly, our public relations students. So, it’s a real honor, it’s a very deep honor to be associated with The Plank Center and certainly to accept this award. And, of course, I love having it also the Bruce Burger Award, a wonderful colleague. So, thank you very much.


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