Consummate Hilltopper: Public relations professor remembered by colleagues after death


Debra Murray and Lily Burris

If you knew Vicki Bagwell, she probably made you laugh often and supported you endlessly.

Bagwell, a public relations professor, was known for being kind, easy to talk to and having cared strongly for the people around her. She dedicated as much as she could to her public relations students and helped them become incredibly successful. She embodied what it means to be a Hilltopper through her dedication to WKU from the time she received both her bachelor’s degree and master’s until the time she returned to teach students in 2006.

Bagwell passed away and was found by her brother Wednesday morning.

Helen Sterk, professor and head of the department of communication, was a friend and colleague of Bagwell’s.

“She was always calm, kind, and good to be around,” Sterk said. “She was a professional’s professional.”

Sterk said Bagwell was planning to retire after the end of this semester.

“She could have done so much,” Sterk said. “I’m so sorry she didn’t get that chance.”

Kenneth Payne, public relations professor, worked with Bagwell for 15 years, and the two had crossed paths during their undergraduate studies at WKU.

“We kind of passed each other here at Western,” Payne said. “Vicki embodied that WKU spirit that we talk about so much here at Western. She was a consummate Hilltopper.”

Payne and Bagwell worked very closely as public relations professors.

“It was fantastic dynamic, the best you could hope for an academic colleague,” Payne said. “She was an incredible professional.”

Bagwell helped students develop their careers in public relations in her involvement in the Public Relations Student Society of America. She was inducted in the Public Relations Society of America’s College of Fellows at the PRSA 2013 International Conference.

“There’s very little about public relations that Vicki Bagwell doesn’t know or hasn’t experienced,” Payne said. “I think the thing to remember about Vicki was her concern for students. Vicki was always putting them first in everything that she did.”

Payne said he would miss chatting with Vicki in their offices. He said she followed sports, and local politics, and she always had something to talk about.

“Our offices were right next to each other so she would come to mine or I would go to hers,” Payne said. “I missed it during a pandemic and I’ll miss it even more now.”

Robert Adams, former journalism faculty member and former director of Student Publications, knew Bagwell as a student and as a colleague in the School of Journalism. Adams said it was a good experience to work with her as both a student and a colleague.

“She was always a hard worker, very committed and always seemed to enjoy working and certainly enjoyed teaching,” Adams said. “I think the students benefited from her enthusiasm.”

Adams said Bagwell was a strong supporter of Student Publications from her time working there and understood the advantages it brought students for their futures.

“She was always a hard worker and very committed to her students and dedicated to helping them become good professionals,” Adams said.

Journalism Professor Mac McKerral worked with Bagwell when the public relations and advertising departments were a part of what was the School of Journalism and Broadcasting. McKerral described Bagwell as a “great contributor to our program” and a very-student focused teacher. He also said she was a strong advocate of students being good writers and considered her a great ally on that topic.

“Vicki was one of those kinds of people, she didn’t talk a lot,” McKerral said. “She was very quiet, but when she had things to say they were always valuable.”

McKerral said they were “very disheartened” when the public relations department left the School of Journalism and Broadcasting. He said Bagwell was very professional and efficient, which were both always nice.

“I think she’ll be missed by the students because I think she’s very effective in the classroom,” McKerral said. ”The only thing I have to say is everybody was kind of hoping when we turned the corner to 2021 things were gonna be better, and to a certain degree they have been, but it just seems like bad things keep jumping up. It kinda knocks everybody back a little bit and certainly makes us think about how we ought to go about what we do day to day to make sure that we’re always trying to do our best for the students and for our programs.”