The Collegian
Monday, October 02, 2023

Speech director has her roots in the White House

Linda Hobgood has the kind of attitude about work that most people can only dream about.

As the director of the Speech Center in the rhetoric and communication studies department at the University of Richmond, she wakes up every morning and can't wait to get to work and start her day.

"I had the chance to do what I had been trained for," she said. "Some people never have the opportunity to pursue their major in the real world - I was pursuing it constantly."

At a young age, Hobgood began a successful professional career working in the White House from 1973 to 1974 with two separate administrations - Presidents Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford. Her first assignment was in special programs to help write presidential proclamations that were going to be presented.

Eventually, Hobgood decided to go back to the classroom setting at the University of Virginia in the wake of the Watergate scandal. She was a bit dismayed, she said, because Watergate had been a tremendous distraction from a lot of the positive things that were coming out of the White House. The media was overlooking important and constructive issues to focus on Watergate because that's what sold newspapers, she said.

Hobgood decided to write a paper about this topic and found a professor in the government and foreign affairs department who took her on as an independent study. After submitting the paper, Hobgood's professor asked her if he could share the paper and he ended up sending it to the White House. Soon enough, Hobgood received a phone call from the first lady's office, asking whether she would come and work for the first lady.

"I must admit I was ready to leave campus that very moment to head to Washington," she said.

But Hobgood waited until the end of her spring semester to head back to Washington - this time on the East Wing instead of the West Wing, handling special correspondences and invitations for the first lady.

After moving on to other opportunities, such as managing political campaigns, Hobgood said she realized she had wanted to go back to teaching at the college level. Hobgood said that while working in Washington, she had realized that some people lacked interpersonal skills, while those with great relational communication skills seemed petrified behind a lectern.

"I think one of my aims in higher education has been to conjoin those," Hobgood said. "I tell students in my classes that speech is an enlarged and enlivened conversation. It should be a one-on-one with all those people sitting there."

Sophomore Nicole Prunetti is a student in Hobgood's Theory and Pedagogy course - a class that students who wish to become speech consultants at the Speech Center must pass.

"What I personally like best about the class is the hands-on aspect," said Prunetti, who observes appointments in the Speech Center and learns practices and teaching methods to eventually incorporate during her own consulting sessions.

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Hobgood advised college students to pay attention to their writing skills.

"I believe that in order to be a good speaker, you must be a decent writer," she said. Understand that when you write, you're writing for the eye, but when you speak, you're speaking for the ear."

If recent college graduates have the luxury of being able to volunteer to do something they think they want to do in the future, Hobgood said, their volunteer work is something that could really further their career.

"You have to be willing to work hard for nothing," she said, "but you're working at least as hard as those who are on salary and people tend to notice that."

After facing many challenging opportunities during her professional career, Hobgood said one of the challenges of teaching at Richmond had been getting students excited about rhetoric at 7:50 or 8:15 in the morning.

"Sometimes I resort to doughnuts or bagels," she said, a lesson she learned on the campaign trail. "Food is a good pick-me-up."

Although life at Richmond has become very busy for Hobgood, she said before things became so busy she had been working on outside projects such as consulting and speech writing.

Good speech writers don't reveal their clients, she said. "Once you give the manuscript to your principal (client), it's their words, and you have to be willing to live with that."

Contact reporter Sharon Tully at sharon.tully@richmond.edu

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