I was able to talk with Brady and Anne Deaton for about an hour a few mornings ago. And during that time, I tried to get a sense of who they are behind the professional persona Brady Deaton has as MU chancellor. Brady Deaton isn’t fake, but I was looking for a more casual version of him. That mostly boiled down to this: Brady loves MU, but he loves his wife more.
One of the bigger lessons that I’m taking away from my semester with the Missourian is that it’s OK to love your sources. It’s OK to have feels about your work. Sometimes I don’t even think objectivity is a thing (whoops), especially for more featurey pieces. We talk about the balance between being a human and being a journalist, and, sorry, but I never want to exclusively be the latter. I am always going to be me. I will always like you more if you have a cute dog. I will always like you more if you know there’s a waterfall in the middle of Riverfront Park (like Brady Deaton does). If I see you cry while listening to your daughter talk about how much she loves you, I will love you too.
I didn’t know the Deatons until a few weeks ago. I knew who they were, and I’d heard members of Faculty Council talk about Brady, but I didn’t know him. Most people don’t know Brady Deaton. That morning, I feel like I got a sense of who he is behind the job (I hope you guys got that from the story, too).
In order to get that, I tried to make the interview not seem like an interview as much as I could. Usually, I take notes during interviews and record them on my phone. When I hear a quote I want to use, I mark what time my recorder is at so I can go back and get the full quote later. I try not to rely on the recorder and write down the quote as well.
For the Deatons, I didn’t take any notes. I thought it would be distracting, for me and for them. I wanted Brady and Anne to forget about the two recorders (TWO I almost wish I had three because the idea of losing that audio and not having notes was terrifying) I had on the coffee table, and I didn’t want to miss any nuances of the conversation while I was jotting something down. I think it worked.
I also tried to get them to loosen up, which pretty much involved my risking sounding like an idiot. I literally told MU Chancellor Brady Deaton and his wife that they are “a power couple.” Which could have gone a weird way if they hadn’t heard that term before, or disagreed, or just didn’t like the terminology. Or they could have scoffed at my “professionalism.” But it worked. Before I said that, I was getting pretty standard, press conferencey answers from both of them. When I said it, they both started laughing, and Brady said something like “We don’t identify ourselves that way,” but in a good-hearted way. Anne is warm person to begin with, but she laughed and kind of waved me off in a “oh, you’re too much” way. I think once I said something that let on a bit of my personality, they were more willing to show me theirs.
(For the record, they are the definition of a power couple no matter what anyone says.)
Brady Deaton is so in love with Anne. Just talking to them both at the same time was such a treat. He’s been incredibly successful professionally, but it’s very obvious that is not what he cares about the most. I think it would be really easy for someone as successful as Brady to push his wife to the side, but Brady constantly brings Anne into the spotlight. He spent five minutes listing off all of the initiatives she’s supported and her career successes (which are plenty, trust me), and you can tell he is very proud of her. They have a mutual appreciation for each other. During editing, Liz said something like, “That’s what love looks like. Don’t forget that.” It’s very easy to fall in love with couples who are obviously devoted to each other. It’s contagious.
The interview went well, but I didn’t even think of it as an interview by the time it was over. The conversation went well. I had fun, and I felt like they had fun. When I wrapped up the interview, Brady and I talked about the one time he visited Spokane in the 90s (he loved it). Anne gave me one of her huge hugs. I washed the mug of coffee Anne gave me in their sink. Neither of them seemed to want us to leave, and the walk to the front door turned into a tour of the house, where Anne gushed over how much she loves the Residence’s wallpaper and Brady talked about how a great-grandson (or something) of a past chancellor goes to MU now and is the spitting image of a portrait they have in the dining room. Brady geeked out about Mark Twain’s podium being in the foyer.
I left their house wanting to be Anne Deaton, basically. And I think that’s OK.