Overby to Receive Coveted Legacy Award

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Ole Miss Women’s Council taps defender of First Amendment rights for 2015 honor

Charles Overby, a champion of the First Amendment and the free press, has been selected to receive the 2015 Legacy Award from the Ole Miss Women's Council for Philanthropy.

The Legacy Award, presented by C Spire, recognizes individuals who have made significant contributions as philanthropists, leaders and mentors and brought about definitive, positive changes in the University of Mississippi, state and nation. A ceremony to present the award will be April 18, 2015 at Carrier House, Chancellor Dan and Lydia Jones' home on the UM campus, where Overby was educated as a journalist.

"Charles Overby has traveled the globe in efforts to promote First Amendment freedoms and to discuss media relations," said Karen Moore of Nashville, OMWC chair. "In Washington, D.C., Mr. Overby led the development of the Newseum, a major specialty museum that explores how news surrounding historic moments affects our experiences.

"At Ole Miss, he continues to have a significant impact on both students and the general public through the Overby Center for Southern Journalism and Politics. The Overby Center gives individuals an opportunity to come together and discuss major issues of our region, nation and world, while creating a better understanding of media, politics and the First Amendment. The Women's Council believes that discussing issues helps solve them."

Overby is the former chairman of the Freedom Forum, Newseum and Diversity Institute. For 22 years, he was chief executive officer of the Freedom Forum, a nonpartisan foundation that educates people about the press and the First Amendment. His service as CEO of the Newseum spanned 1997 to 2011, during which time he supervised the building of the Newseum on Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington. This interactive museum has been called the "best experience Washington has to offer." He also was CEO of the Diversity Institute, a school created in 2001 to teach journalists and aspiring journalists while increasing diversity in newsrooms.

The Overby Center for Southern Journalism and Politics was established at Ole Miss with a $5.4 million gift from the Freedom Forum to honor Overby's extensive professional contributions. He continues his involvement with Ole Miss students by helping them identify beneficial opportunities and internships.

Before joining the Freedom Forum, Overby was an effective public watchdog – a newspaper reporter and editor for 17 years – with a goal of protecting citizens by keeping them well informed. He covered Congress, the U.S. Supreme Court, the White House and presidential campaigns for Gannett Co., the nation's largest newspaper company. He also served as the top editor at Florida Today in Melbourne, Fla., and the executive editor of The Clarion-Ledger and Jackson Daily News in Jackson. Overby supervised the news and editorial coverage that led to The Clarion-Ledger winning the Pulitzer Prize Gold Medal for Distinguished Public Service in 1983 for coverage of the need for education reform in Mississippi.

His exemplary career – which began as an 11-year-old delivering newspapers at 5 a.m. for The Clarion-Ledger – also includes serving as vice president of news and communications for Gannett and as a member of the management committees of Gannett and USA Today. He experienced two stints in government, as press assistant to U.S. Sen. John Stennis, a Democrat from Mississippi; and special assistant for administration to Tennessee Gov. Lamar Alexander, a Republican.

When asked about his successful career, Overby credited his mother, his wife and longtime colleague, the late Al Neuharth, founder of USA Today, the Freedom Forum and the Newseum, for mentoring and supporting him throughout his extensive career.

Overby has a bachelor's degree from Ole Miss, and honorary doctorate degrees from Mississippi University for Women and Millsaps College. He is a member of the Mississippi Press Association Hall of Fame, and a member of both the student and alumni Halls of Fame at Ole Miss, and an adjunct journalism instructor at Ole Miss.

The Legacy Award is a focus of the 14-year-old OMWC, an organization which recognizes that meaningful lives and careers in and beyond college rely on strong relationships and nurturing support. Mentorship, therefore, is the cornerstone of OMWC scholarships, and almost 100 students have blossomed under this program.

Past Legacy Award recipients have been Netscape president/CEO and education visionaries, Jim and Donna Barksdale; "The Blind Side" mom and co-founder of the Making It Happen Foundation, Leigh Anne Tuohy; the heart and soul of America's first family of football, Olivia Williams Manning, who has nurtured sons Cooper, Peyton and Eli to be servant-leaders; and Mississippi's "education governor," champions for improved race relations and volunteers for Habitat for Humanity, William and Elise Winter.

OMWC's endowments total about $11 million, and each new scholarship is recognized in the Rose Garden adjacent to the Gertrude C. Ford Center for the Performing Arts.

The Legacy Award is voted on by members of the Women's Council. Sponsorships for the 2015 event honoring Overby are available by visiting http://www.omwc.olemiss.edu or contacting Sarah Hollis at shollis@olemiss.edu or 800-340-9542.

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Danny Blanton
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