David Brinkley Was A Tar Heel After All
David Brinkley, a man who became internationally famous for saying good night, said goodbye to us all for the last time on May 11th. Brinkley died in Houston, Texas after suffering a fall and was reportedly in poor health for the past year.
My memories of David Brinkley go back to the time I was employed at Vanderbilt University in the mid 60s. Huntley and Brinkley were at their peak of popularity at the time and Vanderbilt people would proudly proclaim that he was a Vanderbilt man. I knew that he was originally from Wilmington and I had heard that he attended UNC but I was never able to confirm this fact. I chose to remain silent on the issue but I thought to myself that it just didn't make sense for a Wilmington native to wind up at Vanderbilt. It was sort of like understanding why a native North Carolinian would choose to attend Duke University even though I am sure there are many honorable and rational natives of North Carolina who have done so for for what they considered to be good reasons.
I continued to try and resolve the question of where he attended college and even located a source once that said he had been accepted at the University of North Carolina but did not attend school there. This just made it more difficult for me to understand but I assumed, without having any proof, that maybe he had been awarded a scholarship to Vanderbilt.
When I heard of Mr. Brinkley's death I decided to try one more time to see if I could determine whether he had attended UNC or not. I believe I now have the complete story about where David Brinkley attended college.
Let's go back a bit. DB was born in Wilmington, N.C. on July 10, 1920. While in high school he did some writing for the Wilmington Star News at the suggestion of a friendly teacher at NHHS. It is not clear whether DB graduated from New Hanover High School or not but we do know that he made a successful hookup with the United Press and served with that organization in several southern cities. The cities where he was assigned were all the capitals of their respective states and the locations of the three universities involved in his post high school education. Chapel Hill is close enough to Raleigh to be counted.
According to information I have uncovered, DB attended UNC in 1939-1940 as a "special student" in English. I'm not sure what constituted a "special student" in those days but it's quite possible that he was auditing courses rather than being enrolled as a student seeking a degree. His status as a high school graduate or non-graduate could also have entered into the picture.
I'm not sure how long DB remained at Chapel Hill but I do know that he enrolled in classes in English as a "special student" at both Emory University in Atlanta and Vanderbilt University in Nashville, TN prior to enlisting in the Army sometime in the early 40s. He was discharged for a physical ailment he denied having prior to his unit participating in the Normandy invasion in 1944. In 1943 he went to Washington where he began his journalistic career.
So there you have it. In my book, he was an alum even though he isn't listed in the alumni directory but I acknowledge that both Emory and Vanderbilt Universities can lay claims to the same honor. There is a David Brinkley listed in the UNC Alumni Directory but its not the same one. The one listed graduated in the early 90s. There is a listing for Alexis Brinkley, the daughter of DB, who graduated from UNC in 1992 and lists her home address as Houston, Texas.
Brinkley had three children but I'm not sure which marriages they were with since he was married twice. Joel Brinkley is a Pulitzer winning writer and Alan is a historian. Alexis is listed as a student so I don't know what she is or is studying to be.
David Brinkley in his career received 10 Emmys and numerous journalistic awards. One story that I find amusing is that when DB was contacted by a writer who had been commissioned by UNC to conduct oral histories for 100 North Carolinians of note, the writer asked DB what he thought of fellow native Wilmingtonian Charles Kuralt. DB responded by saying that he had never met Charles Kuralt. The writer was taken back because he had seen the two on a PBS program together but was reluctant to challenge Brinkley. Finally the writer decided to mention the PBS program, not knowing what Brinkley's response would be. Brinkley responded that the program had been done with remote cameras and they were in different locations while the program was being aired. DB was complimentary of CK and said that Kuralt made people feel good about being Americans. I agree.
Tar Heel born, Tar Heel bred and now Tar Heel dead. You made us proud to be Tar Heels.