NAFSA Remembers Journalism Pioneer Deborah Howell

January 05, 2010

By NAFSA

NAFSA extends its deepest sympathies to our friend C. Peter Magrath on the loss of his wife Deborah Howell. Peter is known to many NAFSAns from his many years as president of the National Association of State Universities and Land Grant Colleges (NASULGC, now APLU), and through his many contributions to the field of higher education. Deborah was killed January 1 when she was struck by a car while crossing a road in New Zealand, where the couple had been vacationing. She was 68.

Deborah Howell was a journalism pioneer, one of the first women to rise to the leadership of a large American newspaper. She became city editor of The Minneapolis Star (later the Star Tribune) at the age of 34, and four years later moved to its rival, The St. Paul Pioneer Press, where she served as managing editor and executive editor. During her time there, she oversaw two projects that led to the paper’s first two Pulitzer Prizes ever. In 1990, she became chief of the Washington bureau for the Newhouse newspaper chain, a post she held for 15 years. Her Newhouse staff also won a Pulitzer during her leadership. She served as ombudsman of The Washington Post from 2005 to 2008.

NAFSA Executive Director and CEO Marlene M. Johnson reflected on her long-time friendship with Deborah this week, saying:

Deborah had a finely tuned sense of how to preserve the privacy on which friendships thrive while living a very public life. We could have deeply personal conversations without any concern that some parts of that conversation would end up as “sources” for stories. In any life, there are opportunities for this line to be crossed, yet Deborah always understood the personal as separate from the professional. Our friendship was always a safe, personal place. That’s not to say that she didn’t advise me about my own relationship with the press – she did, and I treasured her counsel. Deborah leaves behind a legacy of support and encouragement for a generation of journalists. She mentored so many over the years – fellow editors, journalists who worked for her, and those who didn’t but whom she still took the time to help. She was an inspiration. And she will be greatly missed.

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