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SeigenthalerJohn Seigenthaler—founding editorial director of USA Today, First Amendment champion, and freedom fighter—was laid to rest Monday in Nashville.

Seigenthaler, who died Friday at the age of eighty-six, was awarded an honorary doctorate by UT’s College of Law last year.

Chancellor Jimmy G. Cheek granted the award, saying the Nashville native “embodies the Volunteer spirit through his words, his service, and his commitment to truth, equality, and justice.”

Doug Blaze, dean of the College of Law, nominated Seigenthaler for the honorary doctorate because “his passion for human equality, for the pursuit of truth, and for protection of free speech and a free press have improved the lives of all Americans.”

After learning of Seigenthaler’s death, Blaze said, “We’re so very proud that we were able to honor his life’s work and have him speak to our graduates last year. He was a great friend of the college and UT, and he showed how one person could make a significant, lasting difference in society.”

Hundreds of people, including Ethel Kennedy, the widow of slain US Attorney General Bobby Kennedy, paid their respects to Seigenthaler over the weekend at a public visitation at the First Amendment Center he founded in Nashville. His funeral was held Monday, also in Nashville.

Seigenthaler worked at the Nashville Tennessean for forty-three years, moving his way up from reporter to editor to publisher and CEO.

Doug Blaze, left, dean of the College of law, bestows an honorary Doctorate of Law hood on John Seigenthaler while Chancellor Jimmy G. Cheek looks on.
Doug Blaze, left, dean of the College of law, bestows an honorary Doctorate of Law hood on John Seigenthaler in May 2013 while Chancellor Jimmy G. Cheek looks on.

He took a short break from journalism in the early 1960s to serve in the US Department of Justice as administrative assistant to Robert F. Kennedy. He served as negotiator with the governor of Alabama during the Freedom Rides. During that crisis, while attempting to aid Freedom Riders in Montgomery, he was attacked by a mob of Klansmen and hospitalized.

In 1982, while still working at the Tennessean, Seigenthaler became founding editorial director of USA Today. He retired as chairman emeritus of the Tennessean and from USA Today in 1991.

Seigenthaler founded the First Amendment Center in 1991 to create national discussion, dialogue, and debate about First Amendment rights and values. The center is an operating program of the Freedom Forum and is associated with the Newseum and the Diversity Institute. The center has offices in the John Seigenthaler Center at Vanderbilt University and at the Newseum in Washington, DC.

Read more about Seigenthaler in the July 2013 issue of Torchbearer.