The University of Illinois Springfield honored the significant contributions of Kathy Best and Mary Mitchell Beaumont during the university’s annual Alumni Gala on Friday, February 23, 2018, at the UIS Student Union.
The 2017 Alumni Achievement Award for outstanding success and national or international distinction in one’s business, profession or life’s work was presented to Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Kathy Best, who earned a master’s degree in public affairs reporting in 1990.
Best has covered news from the Statehouse to the Capitol, and from the digital domains of Seattle, Washington to the big skies of Missoula, Montana. Best grew up in a small-town Illinois newspaper family.
“Mom was editor, Dad was publisher, and my brother shot pictures,” she says. “When news happened—like on my 16th birthday when somebody set the jail on fire—everybody got up from dinner and left me sitting there.”
Best didn’t sit for long. After a false start in pre-med at Illinois, she transferred to SIU-Carbondale and graduated in 1979 at the peak of a recession. Graduate school seemed like the best bet, and her parents, who knew public affairs reporting program founder Sen. Paul Simon and Statehouse reporter Mike Lawrence, recommended the public affairs reporting program. Her degree led her to covering the Statehouse for media company Lee Enterprises and the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
From there, it was a natural transition to the nation’s capital. “D.C. was a great place to work, but I missed feeling connected to a community,” Best explains. She was dating a reporter who relocated to Oregon, and on a visit, she fell in love with the state’s natural beauty. She arranged for a get acquainted cup of coffee at the Seattle Post-Intelligencer at 9 a.m., left the building at 6 p.m. and was hired an hour later.
Best made her mark at the Post-Intelligencer’s rival, the Seattle Times, where she was hired as a managing editor for digital news because the editor said Best was the only person to have ever beaten him on a story. Under her watch, the Times staff won 2010 and 2015 Pulitzer Prizes for breaking digital news, and its investigative team won a 2012 Pulitzer for investigative reporting. Best became editor of the Times in 2013 and left in 2016 because she felt Seattle’s population boom had made it unlivable. Plus, the decline of legacy media meant drastic cutbacks. “I didn’t want to be the editor who dismantled the newspaper,” she says.
Best now serves as the editor of the Missoulian and the Ravalli Republic in Missoula, Montana. She’s fallen in love with big sky country, but she hasn’t slowed down. “Between having a congressional candidate on the eve of the election beat up a reporter to having a million acres burn this summer,” she notes, “I do not lack for news.”
The 2017 Distinguished Service Award for extraordinary commitment, dedication and service to the advancement of the University of Illinois was awarded to Mary Mitchell Beaumont. She earned a master’s degree in communication in 1989.
Beaumont came to UIS as a non-traditional student. She moved to Springfield with her journalist husband Jim and sons Mitchell and Matthew in 1972 so that Jim could cover the Statehouse for the Illinois Chamber of Commerce. Before his family joined him, Jim began taking classes at UIS (then Sangamon State University) and received his master’s degree in public administration in 1974. “I went back to school to keep up with the rest of my family,” Beaumont says. “My husband had three degrees, we had two children in college, and I thought, ‘Hey, they’re going to be ahead of me.’”
Jim and Mary soon became fixtures at UIS. They frequented the library, attended art openings and auditorium events, and cheered at pep rallies and sporting events. Few things happened without them. When an event called for catering, Mary cooked. When WUIS, the UIS-related NPR affiliate, held pledge drives, she answered phones. “I’m proud to say I even judged a homecoming parade,” Beaumont says, laughing.
Beaumont was a founding steering committee member of the SAGE Society, the University’s group for alumni and friends aged 50 and better. SAGE has offered “lunch and learn” events and dinners before Sangamon Auditorium events.
As a longtime member and past president of the Springfield Branch of the American Association of University Women, Beaumont has promoted UIS’s interests. In recognition of her leadership, AAUW Springfield Branch established a scholarship in her honor that benefits UIS female students returning to their education after an interruption. The Beaumonts later endowed the AAUW scholarship and also established the Jim and Mary Beaumont Endowed Scholarship for Public Affairs Reporting.
Beaumont also has been a champion for UIS causes dear to her heart. Jim—who died in 2013 due to an accident early in their marriage—negotiated the world from a wheelchair, with Mary as his primary caregiver. The couple advocated for accessibility on campus, as well as family-friendly restrooms. Mary also crusaded for the education and development of women as leaders.
For more information on the awards, contact Chuck Schrage, associate vice chancellor for alumni relations, at 217/206-7395 or email@example.com.