Retiree leaves behind lasting memories

Long financial aid lines, lost paychecks and altercations with professors. These and other problems form the plight of the frustrated Rattler.

Now imagine a place filled with love, chocolate, kind words and wisdom. No, it isn’t your elusive “happy place.” It’s real, and students, faculty and staff in Florida A&M University’s School of Journalism and Graphic Communication have always known about it.

Inside Tucker Hall Room 108, there’s a woman who has committed her life to fixing the problems of the students – all with a smile and a word of encouragement. She’s on a first-name basis with just about every person employed by this University since the early 80’s.

She knows exactly where to go, and who to talk to in order to get your problems solved.

But that’s all about to change, because Maryann Travis is leaving FAMU, and her retirement is long overdue.

Students and colleagues, when asked to describe her, use words like “omniscient,” “compassionate,” “tectonic” and “formidable.”

“I think they’re going to need three people to fill her shoes,” said Nilse Furtado, a graduate student in the school of journalism from Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

At her retirement party Oct. 29, former dean of the journalism school, Robert Ruggles, tried to sum up Travis, calling her, “a secretary, counselor, troubleshooter, adviser, fixer and motivator.”

Ruggles talked of things Travis dealt with on a daily basis – all with grace and ease, including, “a constant shortage of state funding and pitifully incompetent administrative staff,” as well as the retirement of faculty and staff FAMU could scarcely bear to lose.

Ruggles talked of changes Travis has been an integral part of since coming to FAMU in 1980. Changes like the creation of the journalism school, its initial accreditation, students attracting the attention of major corporate employers, implementation of the master’s program, the ERP switch and plans for the new journalism school building. She’s seen WANM (WAMF when she started) go from 10 watts to 1600.

Travis came to FAMU from New York with her husband Theron, whose family is from Tallahassee. Not long after arriving, she received a phone call from her former boss asking her to consider coming back. Her former employer had been forced to hire two people to fill her position, and the work still wasn’t getting done. Travis turned him down. Hard as it was to swallow in the beginning, Tallahassee was home to her husband and would be for her, too.

Friends, students and faculty, new and old, came to sing her praises Oct. 29.

Love poured through the banquet room in the Radisson Hotel. Well-wishers throughout the night struggled to find the words to fully explain how she’d touched their lives. A recurring theme throughout the evening was her love of God, and appreciation for always being there for anyone that needed her, a mother figure to everyone.

Everyone agreed Travis is the master at persuading people to do her bidding. The secret? Red velvet cake, chocolate and good old-fashioned home cooking. She knows people are easy to please when love and sugar are involved.

Travis, although spreading sunshine everywhere she goes, isn’t immune to heartache.

Throughout the years, always smiling on the outside, she frequently “carried a heavy burden inside,” said Roosevelt Wilson, Publisher of the Capital Outlook. “It takes the strength of God to live with that attitude.”

With unshakable faith and courage, Travis said, “I try not to let manmade things get in the way.”

If Travis can change something, she will. Otherwise, she will leave it to the powers that be. Most people would agree that is easier said than done.

“I always try to leave a good impression. I’ve tried to do that over the years. I try not to be a selfish person,” she said. “Again, that’s easy to say, but not as simple to put into practice.”

People on campus who have dealt with her repeatedly acknowledge her success at these attempts.

That is not to say that she is unwilling to call someone onto the carpet if need be. Indeed, one so faithful, unwavering and dedicated to living a spiritual existence can’t ignore apathy and incompetence.

Travis has always been willing to stand up for what she believes is right. She may be a role model for those trying to behave assertively as opposed to aggressively. In particular, she has struggled with teachers who can’t seem to remember they are here for the student’s benefit.

“The least we can do is be nice and be truthful,” Travis said.

Travis’ last official day at FAMU was Thursday. One can only hope her replacement possesses half of her wisdom and ability.

Travis offers some advice to her replacement, “My mom always taught me that only 110 percent would do, and to respect my signature on a contract. It is my word.”

Travis offers words of wisdom for teachers and staff, “Be patient, count to 10 and pray.”

So what is Travis looking forward to most? Travel. She plans to go to Belize, Hawaii and Tahiti to celebrate, as well as going to see relatives in New York, Detroit, Atlanta and Las Vegas.

Travis left FAMU with the impression that she’s going to travel the world, and continue to bless those with whom she comes into contact with her resolute faith and abiding message of hope and love.

Almost everyone knows Travis will come back to visit. After all, FAMU is her family away from home.

Phillip Keirstead, professor of journalism, put it eloquently when he said, “We will miss you, but we will never forget what you have done for us.”

Contact Karen Porter at