Editor's Note April 3, 2014: A funeral will be held at the Emerson Funeral Home, 1629 East Nettleton Ave., in Jonesboro, Arkansas, on Saturday with visitation at noon and a graveside service at 2 pm. In lieu of flowers, the family requests contributions in Shawn's memory be made to the Shawn Presley Scholarship Fund at Kenyon College, Office of Development, 101 Chase Ave., Gambier, Ohio, 43022, or the Capital Area Humane Society, 3015, Scioto Darby Executive Court, Hilliard, Ohio, 43026.
Shawn Presley, associate vice president for college relations and public affairs at Kenyon, died Tuesday. Widely known for his long editorship of the College’s alumni magazine, which was twice named the best in the nation, he was 49, and a resident of New Albany.
“The entire College Relations division mourns the loss of our beloved friend Shawn,” said Vice President for College Relations Sarah Kahrl. “We remember his talent: a discerning, hip and fearless eye that set our publications apart as striking artifacts of the Kenyon world. Yet I appreciated him most as a gifted mentor of his exceptional staff, the ringmaster of a bright and brilliant group of writers, designers and photographers, many of whom he recruited from beyond the College’s circle.”
Among Shawn’s most recent successes, Kahrl pointed to the addition of social media to the department’s responsibilities. “Shawn’s exceptional skills helped define Kenyon’s public voice during the decade of his remarkable tenure at the helm of Public Affairs. I will miss his instinct for a story, his sophisticated take on a trend that mattered to the College, his sense of fun and his loyal support of his Kenyon family. It is a profound loss of a remarkable colleague and dear friend whom I will miss daily.”
“Our College Relations family is deeply grieving the loss of not only an immensely talented colleague but also a caring, warm, compassionate friend,” agreed Lisa Dowd Schott ’80, who worked with Shawn during her tenure as director of alumni and parent programs and in her current role as managing director of the Philander Chase Corporation. “I was in awe of his skills but even more grateful to know I always had a partner who would work side by side with me on any event or project I brought to him. This is heartbreaking news for all of us who loved Shawn.”
“This is a major loss for the Kenyon community,” said President Sean M. Decatur. “Shawn, in so many ways, has been the central craftsmen of Kenyon’s public face for the past decade. I appreciated his keen sensibility for framing a story and his quiet but direct leadership. We will miss his creativity and steady presence.”
Born Lenard Shawn Presley in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, on October 9, 1964, Shawn was a son of Ferne Culpepper Presley and Rev. Emmett Alden Presley. He grew up in Jonesboro, Arkansas, where his father, a Baptist minister, taught in the Department of Social Work at Arkansas State University. He graduated from Ouachita Baptist University and went on to receive a master’s degree from the University of Missouri School of Journalism.
Shawn’s first job after earning his M.A. was with Investigative Reporters and Editors, a nonprofit organization dedicated to improving the quality of investigative reporting headquartered at Missouri’s journalism school. He followed that with positions as coordinator of news services at Central College and as a communications specialist at the University of Iowa.
Shawn came to Kenyon in August 1997 as news director. He became public affairs director and editor of the alumni magazine in 2003. His promotion to associate vice president came in 2012.
With Shawn as editor, the Kenyon Alumni Bulletin received the 2009 and 2011 Robert Sibley Magazine of the Year Awards from the Council for Advancement and Support of Education (CASE). In 2009, the judges for the award, editors at Newsweek magazine, noted that the Bulletin “plays skillfully on two elements of the small liberal arts college experience shared by the College’s alumni — a deep emotional attachment to Kenyon’s educational ethos and an abiding sense of place.”
Both as news director and as public affairs director, Shawn was a trusted communications advisor to Kenyon’s senior administrators, including former president S. Georgia Nugent.
“Where Shawn really shone was in his journalistic judgment,” said Nugent. “I came to understand, early on, that I could rely on his counsel. Through good news and bad news, we trusted each other to try to be the voice of the College in the best and most honest way. Kenyon has lost a loyal and very valuable friend, who helped us all to be better informed about and more proud of the College.”
The Office of Public Affairs also won national awards from CASE for its admissions and campaign publications during Shawn’s time as director.
“Shawn was a first-class friend and a first-class talent,” said Jennifer Delahunty, vice president for enrollment and dean of admissions and financial aid. “Much of Kenyon’s current success in admissions can be traced to Shawn. He put his spectacular stamp on all admissions communications. He took the time to stay connected to his colleagues and friends in Gambier in a deep, human way. His passing reminds us all to value and take time with one another.”
“Shawn was a compassionate, sensitive man with immense talent,” said Mark Ellis, Shawn’s successor as the College’s news director. “He was a communicator and a journalist of great skill. He was a wonderful and loyal friend. The loss is devastating.”
Dan Laskin, who recently retired as the public affairs office’s publications director, said, “With Shawn overseeing how Kenyon presented itself to the world, the College became a more colorful, often a lushly colorful, dazzlingly colorful, place. He was also unafraid of taking some risks, and he appreciated humor and playfulness — things that aren't easy to pull off, especially at an institution that so appreciates tradition. As a result, the Kenyon ‘look’ and the Kenyon ‘feel,’ which I think have always stood out, stood out in a new, very striking way. We owe a lot of that to Shawn and to the way he led the office.”
Shawn enjoyed spending his leisure time gardening, listening to music, traveling and shopping for men’s fashion for which he had a keen appreciation. He was devoted to his dog, Lincoln, a floppy-eared Doberman Pinscher.
“He was a loving owner to Lincoln, and I believe any man who treats his dog so well must be a good human being,” said Alice Straus, coordinator of alumni admissions volunteers who arrived in Gambier about the same time as Shawn. She remembers bonding with him over cooking, entertaining and popular culture.
Others shared memories of Shawn’s ability to connect with those around him. “Shawn had a gift for lifting people up when they needed it and an innate ability for improving anything he set his eyes on,” said Professor of Chemistry Scott Cummings, a longtime friend. “He had a deep passion for Kenyon and took tremendous pride in his work. That was only surpassed by the pride and love he had for his family.”
Shawn is survived by his parents; his brother, Andrew; his sisters, Shearon and Sabrina; and his partner, Jeff Short. Arrangements are pending for the funeral in Arkansas. A memorial service to be held on the Kenyon campus is tentatively scheduled for Saturday, May 10.