Gerald Ensley horizontal photo

A Thank You to the Writing Inspiration I Never Got to Meet: Gerald Ensley

Two years ago, this February, Tallahassee tragically lost one if it’s most beloved journalists, Gerald Ensley. Gerald “Perk” Ensley wrote for the Tallahassee Democrat for 40 years as a sports reporter, news and feature writer and columnist. He won over 50 state and national awards for his writing, including the key to the city back in 2016. It is estimated he wrote over 12,000 articles throughout his whole writing career, which began at the Florida Flambeau when he was a student at FSU in the 1970s. Unfortunately, I never had the chance to meet Mr. Ensley, but I had the honor of getting to know him through his wife Dr. Sally Karoith, his daughter, Amanda Thompson, his writing and the Gerald Ensley Emerging Journalist Award.

Gerald Ensley Vertical photo Amanda Thompson

To backtrack, I applied for this Emerging Journalist scholarship and several others sent out by the College of Communications and Information at the beginning of my fall semester, never really expecting to hear anything back. When I got the email in November notifying me that I had received this award and that I was the first-ever recipient of it, I was shocked and overjoyed, but I still didn’t know anything about the award. I was then contacted by Mrs.Thompson, who introduced me to her mother and told me so much about her father. I had the opportunity to have lunch with her and her mother, and I got to learn so much about Mr. Gerald Ensley, the huge legacy he left behind and how I got to be a part of it. To say I was in awe was an understatement. I never thought the list of scholarship applications I applied to would lead to the opportunity to bring such an amazing, impactful family into my life and to give me the chance to be a part of Mr. Ensley’s writing legacy. I asked Mrs. Thompson how she thought her father would feel to know about the creation of this award, and she said, “As a young writer, Ensley was nurtured by many who believed in him. He paid that forward by mentoring countless young writers who have gone on to flourish in their careers. He'd be thrilled to know that this endowed award will support emerging writers at FSU in perpetuity. We need journalists and storytellers now more than ever, and he'd be pleased to know that the hundreds of people who contributed to this award agree.”

Dana, Amanda, and Sally Dana Sardina Upon meeting Dr. Karoith and Mrs. Thompson I was gifted a copy of “‘We Found Paradise’: Gerald Ensley on the History and Eccentricities of His Beloved Tallahassee," a book of articles Gerald Ensley wrote about Tallahassee, compiled and published by his daughter. The book is actually a large part of what funds the Emerging Journalist Award, as all profits for it go straight to funding it. Getting the chance to read what he was most passionate about refueled my own passion for writing and inspired me to always try harder to get the best story, and to always write on what I’m passionate about, as he did throughout his life. I recently asked Mrs.Thompson why her father loved writing about Tallahassee so much, and she said, “He loved this city, warts and all. He reveled in highlighting its quirks and characters, tragedies and triumphs. In 1999, in anticipation of the turn of the century, he wrote about the day he fell in love with Tallahassee (Tomorrow? Maybe somewhere between Atlanta and Mayberry; Nov. 28, 1999). It was 1970 and he was a freshman at Florida State. On that spring day, he realized that Tallahassee "offered everything I wanted from the future: beauty, purpose, history, energy and romance." That feeling never left him and he built a career documenting the community and the people who make it special.”

I was also the first one to receive a copy of “Write the Way You Would Talk”, a booklet of writing advice Mr. Ensley’s daughter once again compiled from her father’s notes and published. It’s amazing to be able to have him as a sort of mentor when I’m looking for interview tips or how to use a unique voice in my writing, even though I never got to meet him. I asked Mrs. Thompson what advice she thought her father would give to young writers such as myself, and she referenced this book, saying, “In this publication are Dad's tips and tricks from his nearly 40-year career in journalism. There are several consistent themes. He stresses the need for emerging writers to be professional, conversational, patient, friendly, interested and kind. These are character traits to practice in any career or area of life. Leave your ego at the door and tell the complete story in the most fair, concise and compelling way possible.”

Gerald Ensley's books Dana Sardina

I’ve said a lot about Gerald “Perk” Ensley here, but really what I want to say is thank you. Thank you, Mr. Ensley, for being such an inspiration to me, to so many writers and to so many people in Tallahassee and beyond. Thank you for writing so much that we who didn’t have the chance to get to know you in person still have the chance to do so. Thank you for the legacy you left behind and for the chance to be a part of it. Thank you.

Another huge thank you to Mrs.Thompson and Dr.Karoith for being so welcoming and warm to me and for telling me all about Mr. Ensley. They have both done such amazing things to keep his memory alive, and if you’re interested in helping to continue Gerald Ensley’s legacy, or reading all the wonderful pieces he wrote:

You can donate to the fund that supports the Gerald Ensley Emerging Journalist award here.

To read his advice on writing and interviewing you can download it for free here or at   

Finally, "‘We Found Paradise’: Gerald Ensley on the History and Eccentricities of His Beloved Tallahassee", a compilation of 45 pieces Ensley wrote showcasing Tallahassee, is available in limited quantities at Midtown Reader and the Tallahassee Museum Store. All proceeds support emerging writers.


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