The Cameron University Foundation has launched a campaign to establish the Tony Allison Endowed Chair in Communication. The campaign goal of $250,000 has already been partially met through the generosity of several members of the 1979 and 1981 national championship speech and debate teams during Cameron University Homecoming events earlier this year.
Allison’s 40-year career as a member of the Cameron faculty impacted countless students across Oklahoma. As a professor, administrator and highly successful coach of Cameron’s competitive speech and debate program in the 1970s and 1980s, Allison garnered a national reputation as a committed educator known for outstanding contributions to creative expression and academic excellence.
“Throughout his academic career, Tony Allison was a master at engaging young minds in the excitement of debate, public speaking, and communication,” says Cameron President John McArthur. “He was truly successful in leading those young minds toward new possibilities and greater accomplishments. His lasting impact is seen in his continuing recognition by peers and in the broad and significant accomplishments of his students.”
Allison joined Cameron in 1972, when only one major was available through the speech program. He worked with others on campus to develop a new communication degree with four areas of concentration to include speech communication, radio/TV, public relations/organizational communication and journalism.
For 21 years, he directed nationally recognized speech and debate teams that won two national championships and were ranked in the top 10 from 1977-1995 at the Pi Kappa Delta National Speech and Debate Tournament.
“I felt my main job was to be a cheerleader and to instill passion in the students that volunteered to be on the speech and debate team,” Allison says of the program’s early years and his role in getting the speech program off the ground. “It became very easy to be that cheerleader, and it wasn’t long before those students started believing in themselves. They wanted to win, for themselves and for the university. The speech program - our teams - were like family. To me, it was all about building a community.”
Allison motivated students to pursue career paths and post-graduate educational goals based upon his unique perception of their talents.
“Tony inspired all of us – and often pushed us – to do things we did not believe possible,” says Dr. Sylvia Burgess, a member of the 1979 national championship team. Now Associate Vice President for Academic Affairs at Cameron, she was named one of 50 Women Making a Difference in Oklahoma in 2009. “He insisted that I become a debater as well as an individual event performer. I doubted myself, but he didn’t. He persuaded me to take the admissions test for law school – something that had never even occurred to me prior to serving on his forensics team.”
Among the thousands he inspired is Brad W. Burgess, a Commissioner of the Oklahoma Department of Transportation and a Cameron University Alumni Association Distinguished Alumnus. Along with his brother, Bill W. Burgess, Jr., another former student of Allison’s who is a former chair of the Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education and an inductee into the Oklahoma Hall of Fame, he is a partner in the law firm Burgess, Burgess, Burgess & Hightower as well as co-publisher of the Lawton Constitution.
“He motivated us, inspired us and helped each of us be better,” says Brad Burgess, a member of the 1979 national championship team. “He helped shape us into who we are today. Vital to Coach’s philosophy of education is what Aristotle called ‘ethos,’ the high ethical values of the individual. He felt that it’s important that the student be honored as a person and learn to honor others. Through this philosophy, he influenced many students who have said that it if weren’t for him, they would not have obtained a college degree.”
District Judge Emmit Tayloe, a member of the 1981 national championship team, says of Allison, “He took me under his wing and helped raise me. Coach Allison was more than a teacher. He was like a parent, a mentor. He set the bar high and made us believe we could reach it. I still count Coach as my friend. How many professors have we had that we could say that?”
Other former students who have distinguished themselves in their chosen professions are Mack Martin, senior partner in one of Oklahoma City’s most prestigious law firms and a member of the Bar Register of Preeminent Lawyers; Oklahoma City attorney Michael Gray, also a member of the Bar Register of Preeminent Lawyers and a senior partner in a firm listed among the Top 10 Corporate Lawyers in Oklahoma; former Oklahoma House Speaker T.W. Shannon; Marty McKellips, CEO of the American Red Cross of Central Texas; Dan Collier, Oklahoma CEO and western U.S. sales manager for Shaw Sportexe; and Monte Brown, executive producer and co-anchor of KSWO-TV’s award-winning “Good Morning Texoma.”
During his tenure on the Cameron faculty, Allison founded a speech and debate camp that grew to be one of the most prestigious in the nation and one that continues to attract students and teachers from a four-state area. Originally held over a single week, the camp has grown so large that it is now held in two sessions, one for individual events and one for debate. The two week-long intensive immersion camps provide high school students with an opportunity to learn public speaking skills, theatrical presentation skills as they participate in debate, broadcast and team-building activities in an interactive, hands-on environment.
Allison also developed an innovative way to bring creative activities to high school students. In 1974, he began offering one-day demonstration workshops to speech and English honors students and gifted and talented students in southwest Oklahoma high schools. Over the years, the invitation has been extended to students statewide. These workshops expose them to debate, public speaking, dramatic performances, poetry readings, and other public speaking events. More than 800 students and teachers travel to McMahon Auditorium in Lawton each year to hear prior-year high school champions in various competition areas discuss experiences and demonstrate skills.
Highly respected by his peers and former students, Allison was the first inductee into Cameron University Alumni Association’s Faculty Hall of Fame, which honors teaching effectiveness, positive impact on student lives, campus involvement outside the classroom and community involvement. He is a two-time recipient of the Outstanding Communication Educator Award from the Oklahoma Speech Theatre Communication Association, which also presented him the Josh Lee Service Award for outstanding service.
Allison distinguished himself with Pi Kappa Delta, the premier U.S. forensics fraternity. He served as Province Governor for a five-state region in 1976-78 and also served for several years on the Pi Kappa Delta National Council. In 1993, he was honored with the Outstanding Service Award from the organization’s past national presidents. In 2005, he was inducted into the Pi Kappa Delta Hall of Fame.
Contributions to support the establishment of the Tony Allison Endowed Chair in Communication are being accepted by the Cameron University Foundation through Cameron’s Office of University Advancement. Gifts can be made online at www.cameron.edu/CU/cu_foundation/giving_to_cu.php. For more information, call 580-581-2999.
March 10, 2016