Longtime USM journalism professor Gene Wiggins dies Thursday

Gene Wiggins dedicated his life to the University of Southern Mississippi.

He earned both his bachelor's and master's degrees from USM as a student and joined the faculty soon after in 1973.

Wiggins was part of the journalism department for more than 33 years. Even after his retirement, Wiggins continued to teach media law and ethics on the graduate and undergraduate levels as professor emeritus, influencing hundreds of students each year.

Wiggins died Thursday in his home at the age of 69.

Chris Campbell, School of Mass Communication and Journalism director, who had Wiggins as a professor while working on his Ph.D and was a colleague in recent years, said Wiggins wouldn't let his students lose their focus.

"He had a way of both inspiring you and helping you deal with whatever complications you had that were making completion of your degree difficult," Campbell said. "He was a favorite of just about everybody that had him as a teacher. His whole professional life was devoted to Southern Miss and he's going to be missed."

The Student Printz Executive Editor Mary Margaret Halford worked with many people who thought of Wiggins as a mentor and looked forward to his media law and ethics class. She had the opportunity to be a student of Wiggins last semester.

"He didn't really give us an opportunity to do poorly in that class, but he didn't give anything away either. He wanted us to be successful," Halford said.

She said many alumni and colleagues are devastated at the news of his death.

"So many people loved him as an educator and as a person," Halford said. "He touched a lot of people and he was such a great mentor for a lot of students."

Wiggins was the first inductee into the Mass Communcation and Journalism Hall of Fame in 2006, which now holds more than 60 journalism icons who have made their way through USM's halls.

Senior student Rachel Beech also took one of his recent ethics classes and she saw his love of journalism.

"He was just so dedicated to his passion and his craft and that shined right through every time he stood up at the podium," Beech said. "He always finished his lessons with very encouraging and strong life lessons for his students to learn."

Visitation for Wiggins will be Monday at Moore Funeral Home in Hattiesburg from 5 to 8 p.m. His funeral will be 10 a.m. Tuesday at Hardy Street Baptist Church in Hattiesburg.

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