Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Eugene Patterson, who played an influential role in the formative days of Duke's Sanford School of Public Policy and its DeWitt Wallace Center for Media and Democracy, died Saturday in St. Petersburg, Fla. He was 89.
Patterson, who taught in the public policy program from 1971 to 1972, also served on the Duke Board of Trustees from 1988 to 1994 and holds an honorary doctorate from Duke, awarded in 1978. A Duke faculty position endowed by a gift from the Poynter Fund -- the Eugene C. Patterson Professor of the Practice of Journalism and Public Policy -- is named in his honor and is now held by Phil Bennett, former managing editor of the Washington Post.
Bennett noted "that by putting the Patterson chair in a school of public policy, rather than a journalism school, Poynter and Gene were emphasizing that journalism doesn't exist in a bubble, but sits right in the heart of the decisions, events and arguments that affect how people live."
Joel Fleishman, founding director of the Sanford Institute, said Patterson was one of the most widely admired American journalists of the 20th century.
"In his role as the pioneering editor of the Atlanta Constitution during the 1960s, his editorials urging Southerners to accept racial integration peacefully won him acclaim and also a Pulitzer Prize," Fleishman said.
After resigning as managing editor of the Washington Post, "he sought out Duke as a place to teach journalism because of his admiration for President Terry Sanford's role in fostering racial harmony and advancing equal opportunity when he was governor of North Carolina," Fleishman added. "Gene Patterson brought his passion for social justice and his commitment to the highest ideals for journalism to the Sanford Institute in its first full year of existence, and launched what ... became the Dewitt Wallace Center for Communications and Journalism. [T]hat brought hundreds of America's most distinguished journalists to our campus for varying periods of time."
Added Bennett, "Gene showed in his own work and the volumes of work he inspired that honesty, courage, humility and humanity are at the heart of great journalism. He set an example of defying convention, and sometimes his audience, by telling the truth. He was also a champion, as an editor, teacher and writer, of the poetry and literary power of newspaper stories. He was proof that journalism can be a force for good in the world."
The Duke flag outside the Allen Building was lowered on Monday in Patterson's honor.
For more stories about Patterson, see:
-- Atlanta Journal-Constitution story: