Robert Montemayor grew up in the small town of Tahoka. He was the first of his family to graduate from high school and college. Within 10 years of graduating from the College of Mass Communications at Texas Tech in 1975, he received a Pulitzer Prize in 1984.
“I used to tell Cathy Buesseler very arrogantly, ‘I’m going to win a Pulitzer within 10 years of leaving here,’ and she would say, ‘Oh Robert,’” said Montemayor. “She would say, ‘Just be mindful that you’re a good journalist.’ I would say, ‘Well, but I’m going to win one.’”
Montemayor spoke at the annual Cathryn Anne Hansen Buesseler Distinguished Lectureship in Print Media on Friday.
Cathryn Buesseler worked in the College of Mass Communications as an associate professor in feature writing, then in magazine production. She was an inspiration to the faculty and students, including Montemayor.
“Hearing stories about him with Mrs. Buesseler was inspiring,” said Emily Balke, coordinator for student recruitment and alumni relations in the College of Mass Communication. “It was so nice to hear that after all of these years they’ve remained so close. It’s a true testament to the quality of faculty that we have here.”
Montemayor’s father was also a part of his foundation for success.
“I think, if anybody gets credit for my early development, certainly he too was a confidant and a mentor, but he’s a father,” he said. “Dads are dads. They’re not necessarily mentors. Early on, and especially when I was in junior high and high school, he just drove me like a nut. I might not be the smartest guy in the room, but you weren’t going to outwork me.”
Montemayor was nominated for four Pulitzer Prizes before he won one with a series about the examination of Hispanics in the Southwest.
“You never know which [stories] are going to be the good ones,” he said. “You just do the work and then they’ll nominate you. I was fortunate to be nominated four times and win the fourth time.”
The series began in spring 1983, he then received the Pulitzer in April 1984.
“We did stories on education,” Montemayor said. “We did stories on religion. We did stories on things that were challenging us as far as being good American citizens. We basically studied it from the point of view of what every immigrant people coming to America goes through.”
We are all immigrants in a sense, he said.
“We’ve all gone through some form of indoctrination, or transformation or assimilation,” Montemayor said. “What we tried to do is write meaningful stories that people could understand and that could give them a glimpse of what it takes to be a Hispanic in America.”
Montemayor wrote four stories out of the 27-part, three-week long series.
“It was a wide swathe of stories,” he said. “The lead piece was about a family that had been in the United States for five generations. I traced their roots from Mexico up through El Paso, Chicago and L.A. They had become this family that had done a little bit of everything. The profile of that phase was in the sense the profile of America. That was the piece that kicked off the series.”
Montemayor visited classrooms last week and gave a presentation at the McKenzie-Merket Alumni Center on Friday.
“We have very, very loyal alumni,” said Jerry Hudson, dean of the College of Mass Communications. “Most of the time, when we call and say, ‘We’d like for you to come back to campus,’ we offer to buy their airfare and housing, but most of the time they say, ‘Don’t worry about it, I want to come back and talk to the students anyways.’”
Frank Bass, Dennis Copeland and Tod Robberson are other Tech alumni who have won Pulitzer Prizes.
“Robert was the first [alumni] to win a Pulitzer,” Hudson said. “We’re very proud of him for that.”
Faculty, staff and students were among those present at the lecture.
“It’s good to come away with sort of an idea of what would be a good thing for me to do in my future,” Katie Yingling, a senior public relations major from Harker Heights, said. “A good success story is always nice to hear from a Texas Tech Alumni.”