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A&M PR chief Saintjones ends 30-plus year career

HUNTSVILLE — Jerome Saintjones, the longtime public relations director at Alabama A&M University, has announced he will retire May 1, following more than 30 years of service at the institution.

“It has been a great season, and I believe I filled a role at a crucial point in time that few would have been either able or willing to fill,” said Saintjones, who began his career on The Hill in 1992.

“It was a tough period financially for AAMU, so anyone who could perform multiple functions was a tremendous asset, no matter how taxing it may have been to that person,” Saintjones said. “Yet, I remember seeing a passion that kept many cars in the parking lot after 5 p.m. and often on weekends.”

A native of Tuscaloosa, Saintjones graduated from Tuskegee University in 1981 with a degree in English. He was hired in Tuskegee’s public relations office, where he worked for 10 years. Within that decade, he earned his master’s degree in higher education administration at Auburn University, where he was often the only African-American in his classes.

It was also during this period, that Alabama A&M alum Erskine McKinnon, who was working at Tuskegee University at the time, informed him about an opportunity in Huntsville.

“Probably because there was a lot of turnaround in the PR office until I arrived in 1992, doing a little extra could take you a long way,” Saintjones said. “For a few weeks, I manned the office alone. Later, Thomas Colvin III joined as a graphic designer/creative coordinator.  It was likely three years before Shirley Alexander joined as secretary, and likely 20 years later that Debra Daniel joined to handle social media.

“Overall, though, staffing was a roller coaster, never peaking, but always dragging along the bare minimum line, in terms of full-time personnel.”

Nonetheless, Saintjones takes pride in purchasing A&M’s first billboards, theatre ads, airport ads, and using every dime possible to assist minority businesses. He also said he wrote, designed and laid out hundreds of newsletters, magazines, brochures and other items, when outsourcing wasn’t an option. Resolutions, he added, probably approach a thousand.

“Some think that persons who serve long develop a resistance to change,” Saintjones said. “I tend to disagree. Serving long doesn’t come without some insight into nearly every change in the book.

“If you’re lucky, sometimes you are blessed with an ability to see patterns. You recognize the welcomed arrival of the bright and the shiny, along with your silent role as coroner when things go awry.”

Favorite interviews

When asked about his favorite interviews, he said two stood out.

“There was a time when Patti LaBelle was on campus to receive an honorary degree,” he said. “She was alone in a room within the President’s office at the time, and Mr. Michael Morns (from Electronic Media Communications) asked me to interview her.
“We talked about Old School soul music and other topics. I noticed a sweet humbleness that I thought was rare for one who had achieved so much. I really enjoyed talking with her.”
Another interview involved an everyday, on-campus individual.
“One of my favorite stories, however, was my interview of AAMU staffer Carla Draper Holloway of the Honors Center,” said Saintjones. “She has a caring spirit and possesses a genuineness that is otherworldly. When she recalled to me how she put all of her being into holding on to her child who was being pulled away by a tornado, I knew then that she was a special person for which the Lord has much in store.”

After spending three decades in a place, there will be things that will be missed following a transition.

“I will miss the wide array of stories that seem to come out of nowhere,” he said. “I liked trying to make complicated subjects more interesting, getting professors to dismiss the Ph.D.’s and relate to everyday people as if their careers and grants depended on it.

“I definitely will miss the PR staff – Shirley, Debra and Linda. The four of us helped to develop an office that was nearly stress-free within. We created a welcoming space that allowed people to vent, offer their perspectives over tea, a snack or candy. Because of our ‘what happens in PR, stays in PR’ unspoken policy, we were a favorite office for many people.””

What’s ahead?

“I’ll probably take the first few months to de-stress,” Saintjones said. “There’ll probably be some withdrawals from not constantly having to do something at the last minute.

“I’ll turn that switch off that expertly kept me for decades from telling a few people where to go.”

I’ll finally edit the novel I have been putting off for better times.  I’ll also make some surprise visits to my dad in Tuscaloosa.  In terms of travel, the luster has dimmed somewhat on a future trip to the African continent.  My lengthy experiences with African-Americans on this continent has led me to the point that I feel the color of the foot on your neck doesn’t matter.  But — I don’t know why — I always find New Orleans and Charleston appealing.”

Saintjones said he will focus more keenly on personal interests, including some yard work with wife Marilyn, giving requested advice for daughter Morgan, intense reading, creative writing, working on special projects with long-time friend Georgia S. Valrie, and enhancing his intense weekend hobby, The Valley Weekly (valleyweeklyllc.com), the online newspaper founded by AAMU alum, entrepreneur and former administrator Dr. Dorothy W. Huston. He has served as the paper’s senior editor for nearly a decade.

“Thank you, A&M, for being a wonderful family,” Saintjones said.

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