Katie Scarvey column: A coup for WFU

Published 12:00 am Friday, September 18, 2009

I went to Wake Forest a long time ago, back when there was still a Big Four tournament and legal kegs of beer at on-campus frat parties.
My college friend Mary Dalton was in so many ways what I wanted to be back then but wasn’t. She knew how successful Wake Forest girls dressed. She could shag. She knew how to act around boys with names like Dink and Rafer. She could carry off vivid shades of lipstick.
By the time I met her, fairly early in my college career, Mary was already an accomplished professional. While going to school full-time, she also served as Wake’s women’s sports information director. (That this was a part-time job in the early 1980s tells you something about how far women’s sports have evolved, but it doesn’t diminish Mary’s achievement in having gotten such a job.)
She knew what a press release was and how to write a good one. She could interact equally well with the privileged golfers she wrote about and the slacker stoner types we sometimes hung out with. In journalism class, our professor always asked her to read her stuff, which she’d swear to me later she’d tossed off 10 minutes before class.
Honestly, a girl like that might easily have given me an inferiority complex, but for whatever reason, Mary decided I was worthy of befriending. At times, we must have looked pretty odd: me in my vintage men’s alpaca overcoat and Mary in her preppy skirts and espadrilles.
We both loved movies, but Mary was passionate about them in a way that I wasn’t. One Saturday afternoon, we went to two in a row: “Diner,” and “The World According to Garp.”
Both of those movies have worn well, just like our friendship.
We continued to be friends after graduation. After getting her master’s degree, she got a teaching job at Wake Forest and began working on her doctorate. More than 20 years later, she’s still at Wake, a highly respected tenured professor and the kind of teacher I’d want my daughters to have, the kind of person I’d want them to be.
Mary began at some point to make documentary films, including”Martha in Lattimore” about the amazing Martha Mason ó a Wake Forest graduate ó who lived more than 50 years in an iron lung.
Mary is a good and compassionate documentary storyteller, with an eye for telling detail.
And now, she’s part of a new program that will help put Wake Forest on the map in an entirely new way. In part due to Mary’s efforts, The Documentary Institute at the University of Florida ó one of the top 10 documentary film programs in the country ó is moving to Wake Forest University.
Along with Sandra Dickson, a nationally-known documentary filmmaker, Mary will co-direct the program.
And an impressive program it is. Its graduates are working for National Geographic, PBS and prestigious documentary production houses such as Cabin Creek Films and Big Mouth Productions.
“We want students who have diverse points of view and are passionate about telling stories that matter,” says Mary (who is these days more likely to be wearing Doc Martens than espadrilles).
“Involving such students in documentary filmmaking will fulfill Wake Forest’s responsibility to educate the whole person, mind, body and spirit.”
Wake Forest’s new Documentary Film Program is set to begin next fall, and I, for one, could not be prouder ó of my alma mater, and of Mary.