NSU will recognize inaugural Distinguished Communications Professionals

Raymond Strother, the late Maj. Gen. Erbon Wise (Retired) and the late Marie Norris Wise are the inaugural recipients of Northwestern State University’s Distinguished Communications Professional award, an honor created this year by the Department of New Media, Journalism and Communication Arts.

The honorees will be recognized during the Long Purple Line luncheon and induction program that begins at noon Friday, Oct. 22 at the Natchitoches Events Center. An awards reception for Distinguished Communications Professionals will immediately follow in the Fort Claiborne Room at the Events Center.

The Distinguished Communications Professional award recognizes individuals with successful careers in and/or significant contributions to the fields of journalism, photojournalism, communications, news editorial, public relations, political strategy, media production, web content production and new media as it emerges, as well as individuals who have made significant contributions to the Department.

Strother is an author and nationally known Democratic political consultant, originally from Port Arthur, Texas. He attended Northwestern on a track scholarship and lettered two years. He transferred to LSU where he became advertising director and then editor of the Daily Reveille. While attending LSU he was the night reporter and photographer for the Associated Press. His master’s thesis written in 1965 (The Political Candidate and the Advertising Organization) predicted that media and not organization would dominate future political campaigns.

He has been the media producer and consultant for dozens of U. S. Senators and scores of House members. He worked on the presidential campaigns of both Gary Hart and Al Gore. Strother has produced media for 16 gubernatorial campaigns including four for Bill Clinton. He worked in the Vice Presidential and Senate campaigns for Sen. Lloyd Bentsen. He has won awards for long form documentaries for civil rights hero, John Lewis and Bentsen.

Strother is in the Long Purple Line at NSU and the LSU Journalism Hall of Fame. In 2009, NSU awarded Strother an honorary doctorate of humane letters. He served as both president and chairman of the board of the American Association of Political Consultants, and in 1999 was a resident fellow at the Institute of Politics at Harvard University. In 2004, he was named the first honorary Fellow at the University of Akron. In 2007, an exhibit depicting his life was dedicated in the Hall of Notable People in the Gulf Coast Museum. In 2008 he was inducted into the American Association of Political Consultants Hall of Fame. That year he was a Fellow at the Dole Institute of Politics at the University of Kansas. He held the Erbon W. and Marie Wise Endowed Chair in Journalism at Northwestern in 2007-08 and 2008-09.

E. P Dutton published his novel, “Cottonwood,” about a political consultant who loses his soul and in 2004, his best-selling autobiography, “Falling Up,” was published. Strother was a frequent commentator on network television and was an analyst in 2000 on the Vice Presidential Debates for PBS. He has written for Newsweek, the New York Times, Washington Post, Atlanta Constitution and scores of other publications.

He and his wife Sandy live in Bozeman, Mont.

Erbon Wise was born in a log house in Claiborne Parish in 1920 and in 1941 earned a bachelor’s degree from NSU where he met and married Marie Norris, his wife of 74 years. Upon the bombing of Pearl Harbor in December of 1941, he entered active military duty and completed the Army Finance School, commissioning as a 2nd Lt. in the Army Air Force. In later years he graduated from the U.S. Command and General Staff College at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, and attended the United States War College.

During World War II, he served as an officer in the Army Air Corps in England, France and Germany. He was among the first soldiers sent to England in September 1942 and was the second Finance Disbursing Officer in the European Theatre of Operations. In his two years in England he served in the 12th, 8th, and 9th Air Forces, and was early stationed with the 91st B-17 Heavy Bomber Group, that of “Memphis Belle” fame, the second B-17 group to be sent overseas.

In June 1944 he was serving with an Air Force Support Unit selected for the Utah Beach Landing of the Normandy Invasion. He went ashore in an assault landing craft and helped clear a dirt landing strip near the beachhead for a P-47 Fighter Group, the first planes sent into France. After the breakout from the beach area at St. Lo, Wise’s unit followed closely behind the forces of General Patton’s 3rd Army drive across France and Germany. He was among the first Americans to arrive in Paris at its liberation. He was awarded meritorious ribbons for four campaigns and honorably discharged in 1946.

Wise returned home and entered military reserve status. In 1949 he organized the 372 Financing Disbursing, an Army Reserve unit that he commanded for many years. Regular drills of the unit were held in a special room he built onto his home in Maplewood. Later when the Army Reserve Armory was built in Lake Charles, he commanded troops at its dedication and later commanded a Quartermaster Battalion there.

From 1964 to 1968 Wise returned to active military service as a Major General and Adjutant General of Louisiana, with duties as commander of the Louisiana Army and Air National Guard, and as State Director of Selective Service, and State Director of Civil Defense. From his headquarters at Jackson Barracks in New Orleans, he led during the turbulent years of the Vietnam War, the Civil Rights marches in Louisiana, and through two disastrous hurricanes. He secured legislative funding to largely rebuild the long-neglected, historic buildings of Jackson Barracks, and to build many new National Guard armories in the state. He retired from the U.S. Army in 1969 as a Major General, after 29 years of active and reserve service.

Upon his return from WWII, Erbon and Marie Wise began establishing, buying and selling weekly and daily newspapers and court news publications across Louisiana and southeast Texas. Over many years they owned papers in Maplewood, Natchitoches, Gretna, Metairie, New Orleans, Chalmette, Slidell, Covington, Sulphur, DeRidder, Leesville, Westlake, Vinton, Iowa, Lake Arthur, Cameron, Rosepine, Lake Charles, Moss Bluff and Shreveport and in Texas at Beaumont, Groves, Bridge City and Orange.

The couple built weekly newspapers into dailies in Sulphur, DeRidder and Leesville. They were the first to begin web offset printing of Louisiana newspapers, and the first to give free newspaper distribution. They built the small Fort Polk military weekly into a large, modern twice-weekly and prize-winning newspaper, the Fort Polk Guardian. Erbon and Marie retired in 1998 from 52 years of publishing newspapers.

Erbon Wise received many awards though the years, including the: Louisiana Distinguished Service Medal, Outstanding Civilian Service Award of the Dept. of the Army, Northwestern State University Long Purple Line Hall of Distinction (the first recipient), Touchstone Award from the US Army ROTC Demon Battalion of NSU, Diocese of Lake Charles 1996 Citizen of the Year, Chairman of the 1980 Louisiana Heart Fund, and Listing in the Who’s Who in America, beginning in 1970.

He was an establishing member of the Northwestern State University Foundation and served continuously on its Board of Directors from its inception in 1960 until he was recognized in 2019 as Board Member Emeritus in thanks for his service to the Foundation. He was awarded an Honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters from Northwestern State University in 2004.

He passed away in 2020.

Marie Norris Wise was born in Natchitoches in 1921. Both her mother, Crockette Kelly Jones Norris and her grandfather, Crockette Jones, were journalists in the newspaper field.

Following her graduation from Northwestern she taught at Gillis High School for one year. In 1942 she married Erbon Wilbur Wise. After he returned from his service in WWII, they then moved to Sulphur and started a newspaper business, sharing the partnership of establishing and/or publishing numerous newspapers through the course of their careers.

In 1998 they retired and sold the three daily and four weekly newspapers that they then owned. Earlier they had established the Guide Newspapers in the New Orleans area, a six-paper group that they sold to Cox Enterprises of Atlanta, Georgia. Their west Louisiana group of newspapers included dailies in Sulphur, DeRidder and Leesville and weekly newspapers in Vinton, Westlake, Moss Bluff and Iowa. For many years they published court news publications in Lake Charles, Shreveport, New Orleans, Leesville, DeRidder, and Cameron and in Beaumont and Orange, Texas.

Marie was a very active journalist who, for 24 years, wrote a syndicated Challenge of Genealogy weekly column that appeared in some 35 Louisiana newspapers. In 1994 she authored “Norris, Jones, Crockett, Payne, Blanchard,” a widely recognized genealogy of these families.

In 1987 the Wises donated about 4,000 genealogical books to establish the Erbon and Marie Wise Genealogical Library in the new Louisiana State Archives building in Baton Rouge. In 1991 they established an educational trust to fund yearly college scholarships in advanced education in journalism. In 2004, they donated funds to establish the first $1M Endowed Chair at Northwestern State University, from which they had both graduated decades earlier. This donation continues to support the teaching of journalism and communications.

By. With her husband, and often with some of her children, she has been a world traveler, visiting some 85 foreign countries. Numerous times she traveled to Europe to visit friends that her husband had made there during World War II. Marie was a prolific and widely-read journalist and genealogist, and a loving wife and mother.

Marie Wise passed away in 2016.