Site Content

The Deacon Blog

A magazine staff blog with news of alumni and the WFU community

Maria Henson

Famed San Diego Journalist and Author Neil Morgan (’43) Dies at 89

An email arrived just a few minutes after the call from Provost Emeritus Ed Wilson (’43) regarding the same news. “Dear Lovers of Writing, we mourn the death of one of our greatest writing alumni, Neil Morgan.” It was from Tom Phillips (’74, MA ’78), director of Wake Forest Scholars and the organizer of the first Words Awake! conference in 2012. We knew we had lost a distinguished alumnus.

Wake Forester Neil Morgan in his newspaper office

Wake Forester Neil Morgan in his newspaper office

Morgan died on Saturday at his home in La Jolla, Calif., and quickly the news media from local public radio stations to television stations to newspapers including the Los Angeles Times were paying tribute to the chronicler of San Diego. NBC 7 reported on how he was a media icon, with one journalist saying that when Morgan was writing his column in the 1960s, ’70s and, as editor of the San Diego Evening Tribune, in the ’80s he was probably the best known person in San Diego.

Morgan was Wilson’s classmate on the old Wake Forest campus, where he was an English major and served as editor of The Student. Wilson remembered him as someone who pursued his dreams. In an earlier Wake Forest Magazine article, Morgan said he owed much to Edgar Estes Folk Jr. (’21), faculty adviser for student publications and a former New York newspaperman “who got me in a lot of trouble and got me out of most of it.”

Morgan was a native of Smithfield, N.C., and the son of a North Carolina Baptist minister who lived to be 101. His stint as a young Navy officer took him to San Diego, and that’s where he began his California journalism career, embarking on what journalist Logan Jenkins wrote was “a 60-year running poem of civic purpose.” For decades he was a columnist, then editor of the Evening Tribune starting in 1981 until 1992. After the Evening Tribune and The San Diego Union merged to form The San Diego Union-Tribune, he stayed on as associate editor and senior columnist. He worked there until he was fired in 2004 and left the newsroom to a standing ovation. He then teamed with a venture capitalist to co-found a new nonprofit journalism model, the Voice of San Diego, a pioneering news organization that has inspired others throughout the country. In October the organization established the Neil Morgan Fund for Investigative Reporting, a fitting tribute for a journalist who by all accounts thrived on teaching younger reporters. Voice of San Diego turns nine years old this month.

You will find plenty of remembrances of Morgan’s life and career on the web, but this from the Voice of San Diego is among the best you will read about an old-fashioned journalist committed to truth. And look for an obituary in the summer issue of Wake Forest Magazine.





Holdridge on the loss of Seamus Heaney

The great Irish poet and Nobel laureate Seamus Heaney was laid to rest Monday. When news alerts announced Heaney’s death on Friday, they prompted me to turn to that treasured resource at Wake Forest: the Wake Forest University Press, the premier publisher of Irish poetry in North America.

Famed Irish poet Seamus Heaney

Famed Irish poet Seamus Heaney

Jefferson Holdridge serves as director and editor of the press and teaches Irish literature as an associate professor of English. I wondered whether Holdridge, who had studied in Dublin, had known Heaney. He wrote me over the weekend:

“My first memories of Heaney were of studying him in the late ’70s, not long after he began writing in fact.  I have loved his work from that period on. I was given his second book Door into the Dark during my first stay in Ireland in the early ’80s.  And I saw him read there in the mid-’80s a number of times.  Each time I was struck by his sonorous voice and even more so by the care he took to answer questions from the audience.  Once I remember an older woman asking him what he thought of all the primroses that were no longer.  He stumbled for a moment and then went into a beautiful rendering of the importance of Irish landscape.

Our paths crossed many times since those early years, but one of my most vivid memories is of seeing him read at the Abbey Theater, which was sold out for a launch of his much later book Electric Light (2001).  Imagine that — a poet selling out a theater.

My most recent memory is of him commemorating the poet Dennis O’Driscoll, who died unexpectedly and prematurely this past year.  Heaney was deeply moved by this sad event as I am by his death.”

Jefferson Holdridge heads the Wake Forest University Press

Jefferson Holdridge heads the Wake Forest University Press

Holdridge’s words served as tribute to an artist revered the world over. I found myself reading his poetry  and the remembrances of those who loved him. I recalled sitting with him at a bar in Cambridge, Mass., and hearing what Holdridge aptly calls that sonorous voice. It was the year before he would receive the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1995 “for works of lyrical beauty and ethical depth, which exalt everyday miracles and the living past.”

At the requiem mass on Monday, his son told mourners in the Dublin church that his mother received her husband’s dying words in a text message in Latin. “Noli timere” – don’t be afraid.

The Guardian newspaper noted that Heaney told generations of aspiring writers: “Do not be afraid” in taking up the pen, and implored politicians of all stripes “‘do not be afraid’ in choosing the path of peace and eventually ending the Troubles by putting down the gun.”

A world of Wake Forest connections

If you’re like me, you get a kick out of how Wake Foresters can pop up anywhere in the world and find easy-going, common ground.

A few weeks ago I heard from Blythe Riggan, who had just finished her first year at Wake Forest and was writing from Kigali, Rwanda. Participating in the Institute for Public Engagement’s summer nonprofit immersion program, Riggan was traveling with Mary Martin Niepold (’65), a senior lecturer in journalism and founder of The Nyanya Project, which helps African grandmothers support their AIDS-orphaned grandchildren.

Mary Martin Niepold ('65) with Kenyan grandmothers on an earlier trip

Mary Martin Niepold (’65) with Kenyan grandmothers on an earlier trip

As you’ll see from Riggan’s blog post, Wake Forest was not her first choice of universities. Reynolda campus was all-too familiar terrain for this Lexington, N.C., young woman who dressed as a Wake Forest cheerleader for Halloween when she was little. Black and gold seemed old hat. But her first year was more than she could have hoped for, and, as she wrote from Rwanda, “Somehow everything fell into place and I am now in Africa having the experience of a lifetime.”

She and Niepold visited nyanyas (Swahili for “grandmothers”) in the slums of Kenya and the hillsides of Rwanda, assuring grandmothers they would not be forgotten and surveying them on their economic progress to track the nonprofit’s impact. One day, in Kigali, she wound up at a dinner table with Niepold and Jeannetta Craigwell-Graham (’06). I visited Craigwell-Graham last year in New York, where she was an associate at Shearman and Sterling LLP, a blue-chip law firm. I wrote about how her two-month stint doing pro bono work in Africa ignited a passion to figure out a way to return. In a few weeks, she had found the way. She left New York for Kigali, for a job in the Strategic Investment Unit of the Rwanda Development Board.

Observing the immediate rapport between Niepold and Craigwell-Graham, Blythe wrote, “As we sat under the cool shade of the tin roof of a local restaurant, Zaffran’s, I listened to these two highly intelligent women discuss the government situation of various African countries. My surroundings flooded over me and I thought, ‘Wow. How did you end up eating at an Indian restaurant with these two women in Rwanda? Can you believe that you are eating lunch in Rwanda with two Wake Forest alumni?’ … I continued to listen in awe as the two swapped stories and discussed the development of African countries. My next thought? ‘Wow. Did you ever think this was possible? Now, can you even imagine the future possibilities?'”

When I saw Blythe in Winston-Salem last week, she said she had no words for how deeply the trip had affected her. She planned to continue working with Niepold this summer and found herself drawn to elders now that she was home.

Blythe Riggan ('16) at Mary Martin Niepold's ('65) home last week

Blythe Riggan (’16) at Mary Martin Niepold’s (’65) home last week

I zipped off a note to Craigwell-Graham to ask about her impressions. Not only had she welcomed Blythe and Niepold, she’d also hosted other Wake Forest community members in May: Ajay Patel, a business professor who heads the Center for Enterprise Research and Education, and, separately, a group of Wake students traveling with Mary Gerardy, associate vice president and dean of campus life, and with Marianne Magjuka, director of campus life.

“Tracing back to the conversation I had with Maria Henson one year ago in a midtown restaurant, we were talking about the mission inherited by all Wake Forest students: Pro Humanitate,” she wrote. That’s why she was “hardly surprised” and “neglected to remark ‘what a coincidence'” to see all of these Wake Forest visitors.

Jeannetta Craigwell-Graham ('06) in her old life in Manhattan

Jeannetta Craigwell-Graham (’06) in her old life in Manhattan

“It’s no coincidence that a certain type of person would be attracted to Wake Forest,” Craigwell-Graham wrote. “Therefore (if I may be forgiven to make this logical leap just once), it’s no coincidence that some of those same people might end up in Rwanda. To meet, analyze, assist, learn — all different forms of action but aligned with the idea of service to mankind.”

Craigwell-Graham was pleased to see all the visitors and catch up on campus news, including whether Shag on the Mag still exists. (It does.) Most important, she wrote, the visits provided “clear and unequivocal reassurance” that she had attended the right college.

“Just one year ago I was stuck in a concrete jungle,” she wrote. “Now today I am in a place, Africa, Rwanda to be more specific, that is known for them and I couldn’t be more free.”

She was on the right track all along, she said. It was one more way she and Blythe share common ground on a planet that feels smaller every day as connections widen and strengthen. As Blythe would say: Imagine the possibilities.



Shane Harris (’98) moves to Foreign Policy

Words Awake! maestro and professor Tom Phillips (’74, MA ’78) shared the news this week that Shane Harris (’98) has left his senior writer position at Washingtonian magazine to move to Foreign Policy magazine as a senior writer.

Shane Harris ('98), author, senior writer, analyst

Shane Harris (’98), author, senior writer, analyst

In a note to Phillips and friends, Harris wrote, “I wanted to let you know about an exciting new chapter in my career. … I’ll be a senior writer at Foreign Policy magazine, where I will cover intelligence and cyber security. And of course, in light of recent events, surveillance!”

Harris no doubt will be blogging and writing nonstop about Edward Snowden, the whistleblower who leaked news of classified intelligence about domestic surveillance to The Guardian and The Washington Post. “Forget PRISM, the National Security Agency’s system to help extract data from Google, Facebook, and the like,” Harris wrote on Monday in a blog post. “The more frightening secret program unearthed by the NSA leaks is the gathering and storing of millions of phone records and phone-location information of U.S. citizens.”

Harris is the author of “The Watchers: The Rise of America’s Surveillance State,” which The Economist named as one of the best books of 2010. He was a star panelist at the Words Awake! conference at Wake Forest in March 2012. Spy-120x100Congratulations to Shane on his new job, a timely posting for commenting on the latest in ‘watching.’