Texas A&M Director of News and Information Services Lane Stephenson recently celebrated his 50th year with the university.
Cranes in the skyline of College Station have become commonplace. The campus of Texas A&M University is always changing, expanding into something more modern. It’s hard to find many elements that have stayed constant. One of those is Marketing and Communications director Lane Stephenson.
Stephenson began working at Texas A&M on Sept. 20, 1966, a pivotal time in the culture of Aggieland. Earlier in the decade, women were first admitted into the school, and membership in the Corps of Cadets had just become optional. There were fewer than 10,000 students. There was nothing besides farmland on the other side of the tracks on Wellborn Road, and the city ended at Harvey Road.
Before coming to College Station, Stephenson grew up in Dallas. He attended the University of North Texas, graduating with a degree in journalism. While attending, he met his future wife, the former Margaret Calhoun.
During the summers, and for a year after graduation, he trained at the Marine Corps base in Quantico, Va. Afterwards, he served in California before entering the Marine Corps Reserve.
Upon his return to Texas, Stephenson took a job at a local newspaper in the city of Tyler as a journalist and photographer. He jokes that had he received a raise, he would still be there.
Two years later, Stephenson took a job with Braniff International Airways in Dallas in the publicity department. Frequently on the road and seeking more stability, he began to look for another job. Through a connection at the Dallas Times-Herald, his name was passed along for a spot at Texas A&M.
He wasn’t immediately sold, but interviewed with then-president Gen. James Earl Rudder and decided to make the change, and take advantage of his GI Bill to pursue his master’s degree as well. He took the job of assistant director of public information, with no plans of being here for fifty years.
One of the ways Stephenson made his mark early on was his effort to build relationships. Robert Cessna of The Bryan-College Station Eagle says, “What I will always remember about Lane is that he hand-delivered press releases. Back then, he could have faxed them, but that leaves an impression on a young person that Lane Stephenson would hand-deliver press releases to The Eagle, KBTX and WTAW. You talk about the personal touch.”
Over the years, Stephenson advanced to become a director in the department, and eventually assistant to the chancellor, Dr. Jack K. Williams, for a period of time. Although he maintained a good relationship with Gen. Rudder, Stephenson thinks of Williams as his mentor.
Stephenson has administered countless press conferences and written even more press releases.
Dave South, radio voice of Texas A&M Athletics, says, “I think if you aspire to do what Lane does, I think you would be miles and miles ahead if you could just sit and listen to him conduct a press conference or read his press releases, or just sit down and talk to him about the right way and wrong way to do it. He’s a wealth of knowledge.”
Not all of these situations have been easy, though. Stephenson has guided Texas A&M’s image through many tough situations, including the Bonfire tragedy in 1999.
Minutes after the collapse, Stephenson received a call and rushed out to the site. The ensuing days he spent dealing with media members, visiting those in the hospital, and in meetings attending to the situation.
In the midst of crises like these, Stephenson had to keep composure and keep Texas A&M’s image intact.
In what is now known as the Texas A&M Marketing and Communications department, there has been a core trio of workers who have been together for the past 25 years: Stephenson and coworkers Patsy Albright and Sherylon Carroll, for whom Stephenson has the utmost respect. Albright was there a bit before Stephenson and then left to be a stay-at-home mother, but he persuaded her to come back.
Admittedly, they have differing opinions a lot of the time and argue professionally, but it is their respect for each other and Texas A&M that fuels the relationship among the three of them.
“I don’t know anyone that works as hard as he does,” says Carroll. “I think Lane works harder today than he did years ago. He has not stopped. He has not missed a beat. I am so amazed by him every day. Right when I think he can’t amaze me any more, he does. He always stops what he is doing to help and really pushes everyone to be the best that they can be. There are no signs of slowing down with him.”
Stephenson is well known, especially in the office, for his personality and humor. Once, after a disagreement about comma usage with her, Albright says he typed 1,000 commas on a sheet of paper with a manual typewriter to give to her.
Despite his humor, Stephenson has no problem stepping out of the spotlight.
“He never imposed himself on anyone. Very quiet. Very deliberate,” says former Texas A&M President Dr. Elsa Murano. “He was always putting [the limelight] off to someone else.”
Along with his humility, Stephenson has demonstrated consistent excellence that has gained him the respect of his peers.
“The man has an institutional memory. He remembers everything about A&M,” remarks Albright.
“Lane always carries A&M in the most positive light. He did what he was supposed to. I think those kind of people are irreplaceable,” says Cessna. “A lot of times they do their job so well they get overlooked. That’s the kind of guy Lane Stephenson is.”
In addition to how much Stephenson loves A&M, Albright also notes that he has a big heart.
He performs many acts that sometimes go unnoticed, because he doesn’t do them for credit. He does them because of his character. For example, for Valentine’s Day he gets flowers for every woman in the office. After events, he walks Carroll to her car to make sure she’s safe. This character has set him apart.
At lunch, Stephenson enjoys working out at A&M’s Rec Center. It’s important to him. But, if there is a disagreement, or someone is having a bad day, there is a solution he always goes to: “Let’s go to lunch.” Stephenson sacrifices his time to strengthen the relationships with those he cares about.
“It’s really the person he is at the end of the day,” Carroll says, “which I think that most people don’t realize that’s who he is. A lot of people don’t get to see that side of him, and I see it every day. We’re like family.”
In 1983, Stephenson was awarded with the Distinguished Achievement Award, which is given to “members of Texas A&M’s faculty and staff for their commitment, performance, and positive impact on Aggie students, Texas citizens, and the world around them.” – Association of Former Students
“In an age of so much turnover and people switching jobs, I think it’s so admirable that someone can be in that type of a position for so long,” says Houston Chronicle staff writer Brent Zwerneman. “It obviously speaks to his ability, too, in his position. Someone I can always count on and someone I have a tremendous amount of respect for.”
President Michael K. Young is the tenth president Stephenson has served under, sixteenth counting acting presidents.
“He knows the right person to go to,” says KBTX anchor Crystal Galny. “He knows the ins and outs of A&M. Very knowledgeable, very sweet. To me he’s kind of a grandfather figure.”
Stephenson also taught in A&M’s journalism department for two semesters. The department was short-handed, and although teaching was “not my forte,” he says, he still made an impact on the students.
“I could tell how much he cared about journalism and us doing it the right way with integrity,” says a former student of Stephenson, Gabe Bock, now TexAgs Radio host and director of broadcasting.
Even though he graduated from North Texas, Stephenson has always embraced the heralded Aggie values and traditions. Bock recalled explaining in an email that he would be late to class because of Ring Day. The two had butted heads a couple of times about Bock being late. However, this time Stephenson instead told him to enjoy the day, a gesture that still means a lot to Bock.
Along with the Aggie spirit, Stephenson is an avid supporter of Texas A&M Athletics and often hosts guests with his department at Aggie football games.
All three of Stephenson’s children graduated from Texas A&M: Chris (‘82), Tim (’88), and Laurel (‘90).
Stephenson has also been active outside of the university. He was a member of the College Station City Council. He is also a published author, having written the Texas College and University Handbook in 1995. Stephenson is also an active member of Central Baptist church, often a greeter for Sunday morning services.
As previously mentioned, Stephenson enjoys staying active, still running and lifting to this day. He has completed six marathons and five triathlons.
When asked for the highlight of his time at A&M, Stephenson jokingly says, “Surviving” with a smile. But he also says that the transformation of A&M from a small, secondary school to the dominant school that it is today is something that he is extremely proud of.
“You can’t say what his impact is today. I think that we won’t know his true impact until 10-15 years down the road,” says Jason Cook, now senior associate athletics director for external affairs at Texas A&M. “He’s incredibly dedicated to anything and everything Texas A&M.”
And he’s not done yet.
To this day, you can still find him working in the administrative building, in the press box on Aggie football game days or getting in his daily workout during his lunch hour at the Rec.
“There are a not a lot of Lane Stephensons,” says Carroll. “I want to be like him when I grow up; of course I have to grow up, and I plan to do that one day. One of my all-time favorite people in the world, at the top of my list. They just don’t make them like Lane Stephenson anymore.”
“And it’s too bad,” adds Albright.