On the left of this page is my “blogroll,” the list of blogs that I’ve found enjoyable, interesting, or worthy of a follow. You’ll see Joel Vance’s blog listed there, and I recommend you visit it.
His last post was November 20 of this year, not long ago, and it’s classic Vance. A consummate storyteller for many decades, Vance always put himself in the stories as the butt of the joke. His misadventures with a continuing cast of hunting dogs were a staple of his years with the Missouri Conservationist, the publication where I first read his work and for which he wrote during much of his career.
Sadly, I read in Brandon Butler’s column this morning that Joel Vance died Wednesday, at the age of 86.
Joel Vance didn’t just write funny stories. He also wrote about the joys of the Missouri outdoors and the threats to it. He wrote in a vivid, conversational style that let you know that you were getting the real Joel Vance, not some packaged PR, although of course the Conservationist is ultimately a PR publication. There was also a no-nonsense quality in his writing that let you know he was ready to call bullshit when he saw it, and I’m sure he saw plenty.
Brandon Butler remarks in his column that this quality of Vance’s writing inspired confidence in his readers and built a rapport with them that carried over into other areas. He specifically cites the passage of Missouri’s much-admired conservation sales tax, which drew on a reservoir of trust that the Conservation Department had built up over the years. I think there’s real merit in that observation, and it’s something that deserves more attention.
Why did people trust the Conservation Department enough to pass a dedicated sales tax? Lots of reasons, of course, but one is that the department, through people like Joel Vance, had been open and honest with the citizens of Missouri. They communicated effectively. As I used to say in my Principles of PR class back at Culver-Stockton, the first rule of good public relations is “Never lie.” And to expand further, “Never even allow youself to be suspected of lying. If something bad happens, deal with it head-on. You’ll suffer in the short term but build trust for the long term.”
Nowadays, we are living through one of the great health crises in our country’s history. We’ll top 300,000 deaths this week, maybe as early as tomorrow, and may potentially hit 400,000 by the time our new president is inaugurated. What would have our situation been like if our leaders at the federal and state level had followed Joel Vance’s example and addressed the situation plainly and honestly, without all the fudging, misdirection, and outright lying that we have seen over the past year? No one knows, but it’s plain to see that there is no reservoir of trust to draw on. Our governor and our president, and their myriads of enablers, have accustomed us to assume that the government is not being straight with us. It’s a sad state of affairs, and it will take a long time to reverse.
I imagine that eventually, Joel Vance’s blog will be deactivated. But for now, I’m leaving the link up at the side of my page, and I encourage you to read through his work. You may not always agree with what he says, but you’ll always know what he thinks and where he stands. And I guarantee that you’ll be entertained.