Campus remembers art professor’s “life lessons”

News Editor Kaitlyn Davis

John Waters, visiting associate professor in the Art Department, died Nov. 4.

“In October 2016, John returned to Richmond, (Virginia) and family, where he was surrounded by love when he passed, following a spirited fight against cancer,” according to the obituary.

Director of University Communications Bryan Rachal said in an email he believes throat cancer caused Waters’ death.

“In keeping with his faith in science and at his request, John’s remains were donated to The Virginia State Anatomical Program, whose mission is to educate health professionals in the teaching of anatomy and medical research,” according to the obituary.

Instead of flowers, people should donate to the Hospice of Virginia and the University of North Alabama Department of Art, according to the obituary.

Waters was more than a professor, said alumna Carly Hannah on Facebook.

“He was a most brilliant professor and friend and by far my favorite of the ones I had during my time at UNA,” Hannah said. “But aside from being a great professor, he was also a beautiful friend to many of his students and taught us many life lessons that we’ll never forget and left us each with a new vision of the world around us.

“(Waters) always pushed me to do my best, even when I didn’t think I could do any better. (He was) always critical of my work but in the best way that inspired me to work harder to please (him) even more.”

Waters accomplished much throughout his life.

As the President and Creative Director of Waters Design Associates Inc., he assisted clients like American Express, The Wall Street Journal and the United Nations with brand strategy and communications, according to the obituary.

Former Waters Design employee Jennifer Baldwin said in a Facebook post Waters was “kind-hearted and inspiring.”

Waters’ found success in his design work.

“John’s clients, his students and he received countless design awards, and in February 2013, John was selected by the readers of Graphic Design USA as one of the 50 most influential graphic designers of the past fifty years,” according to the obituary.

He was also a professor at the Savannah College of Art and Design from 2006-13, which is what sparked University Photographer Shannon Wells’ interest in him, she said in an email.

Wells was his “partner in love and mischief,” according to the obituary.

The two met at UNA, Wells said.

“I was impressed with his cool demeanor and (New York) accent,” she said. “I loved his smile, (and) I volunteered to show him around.”

The pair had many grand adventures including eating greasy food atop an Indian burial ground, Wells said.

“(During) one hilarious picnic, we climbed to the top of the Florence Indian Mound,” Wells said. “It was 20ish degree weather. At the top, we ate fried chicken, shivering beneath a quilt, while the wind whipped through the cracks constantly tearing it from our grip. We laughed a lot.”

They bonded over creativity, she said.

“We found beauty in simple things or most everything,” she said. “It was a constant pleasure seeing together, and we discussed every subject.

“John was an optimist (and) a tough business man. He (also) taught me to drink Scotch.”

Waters taught her many life lessons as well, Wells said.

“(Waters taught me) to never give up, to stay positive, the importance of forgiveness and acknowledging it if we’re wrong,” she said. “(He also taught me) that nothing is as it seems, to question everything, to be strong when you’re right, to take chances (and) that creativity in the workplace and education is the most important first ingredient to innovation and success.”

She learned from Waters that failure is only the precursor to success, she said.

“I learned that John had a mind which exceeded mine by a million light years,” Wells said. “He gave me the gift of confidence because he believed in me.”

Senior Emily Jones said in an email Waters had the ability to lift others up.

“He believed that everyone has creativity inside them,” Jones said. “They just need to look inside themselves. Mr. Waters was more than just my professor. He was someone who inspired my work. He pushed me to my fullest potential in the academic world and in the professional world.

“He definitely left a mark here at UNA that can be seen through the students he taught and the people he touched.”

Wells said the art professor’s genuineness made his students trust him, and he would have wanted his students to know he loved them.

“John was believable,” Wells said. “So, when he complimented the students on their potential, they knew he was being honest.”

He helped students succeed in their work.

“He was a great professor and a greater human being,” said former SCAD student Kiera Bui in a Facebook post. “The project I did in his class got a lot of compliments from interviewers, and I was so lucky to have met him.”

For details about Waters’ memorial service, contact Art Department Chair Chiong-Yiao Chen at [email protected]