My life was radically changed because of a halting prayer I murmured nearly half a century ago in the bleachers of Orange Coast College’s track and field complex.
It was April of 1971, and I’d just graduated from Cal State Fullerton with a degree in communications. I’d previously earned my associates at OCC. Engaged in my first job after college, I was working as public relations director for a small Orange County advertising firm.
To be truthful, the job wasn’t all that satisfying but I grabbed it quickly after graduation. Jobs weren’t plentiful in those days and what was available wasn’t terribly lucrative. Many of my college chums were working in retail sales, hawking magazine subscriptions or keyboarding agate sports results for the Santa Ana Register.
What was Carnett — the big P.R. exec —doing at a small firm that paid $6,500 … a year?
He was hating it.
The agency’s specialty was advertising and P.R. campaigns for real estate developers. Writing real estate “news” copy about groundbreaking ceremonies, open houses and new-home appurtenances excited me about as much as pounding spoonfuls of sand into my ear canals. Taking promo shots at phony weekend grand openings was, to me, insufferable and boring.
I remember my professor in a senior PR Ethics (the two are not mutually exclusive) class saying: “We public relations professionals never stretch the truth. The truth is our compass. Once you’ve lost credibility, you’ve lost all hope of making it in PR.”
I took that to heart.
Yeah, so my first week on the job the agency’s owner asked me to write a “puff piece” about one of our clients and told me to insert several claims that were patently untrue. Naïve babe that I was, I was stunned. I couldn’t reconcile his assignment with my recently acquired professional principles. I deeply believed in my college major, and now I was asked to violate its very code of ethics — my first week on the job. My head was spinning.
Then the phone rang.
It was Don Jacobs, one of the finest P.R. professionals I’ve known in my lifetime. Don was then public information director at OC C. I’d done an internship with him my last semester at Fullerton. It was a life-changing experience.
Don called to ask if I’d be interested in taking his job. He’d been impressed with my internship performance. Don was moving into the classroom to teach communications and political science.
Take your job? Are you kidding me? Yes.
Don gave a cautionary note: nothing was certain. A decision would not be made until midsummer at the earliest. No guarantees. It was April and I suddenly wanted that job more than anything.
Now the incident that I mentioned at the outset of this column took place.
It was sometime in April of ’71 and very likely a Saturday afternoon. I went to OCC’s track, as I often did, to run my six-mile workout. My noggin was filled with thoughts of Orange Coast College vis-a-vis the ad agency’s flack job. I hadn’t heard anything definitive yet. I’d interviewed with OCC’s president, Robert B. Moore, and that seemed to go well.
Still, no decision. And I was stressed.
After my run, I walked over to the track’s bleachers and ran several “stadiums.” I then sat down next to the press box overlooking the college’s northeastern quadrant. I took a moment to savor the beautiful setting — my campus.
I wasn’t much of a praying person in those days, but I began to petition heaven at that moment. “Oh, God,” I hesitantly intoned. “I want this job so badly. This is my college … my campus, and I love it. Please allow me to have it.”
My prayer was ultimately answered. My first day on the job was Aug. 8, 1971. I lasted 37 years.
Oh, and amazingly enough, after I retired in 2008 the college named the above-mentioned press box for me. What an honor.
God and I have since had lots of conversations about Orange Coast College. Without Coast, my life would be entirely different today. I’d never have met Hedy, my wife of 45 years, and none of our eight grandchildren would be with us.
In April of 1971 I couldn’t see the future. But God could.
Jim Carnett was an administrator at Orange Coast College for 37 years before retiring in 2008. For 10 years, Jim wrote a weekly column for the Daily Pilot. He lives with his wife, Hedy, in Costa Mesa.