The Deacon Blog

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

Words Awake!

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.

 

 

 

 

Remembering Will D. Campbell, a Wake Forester and renegade

Wake Forester Will D. Campbell died Monday at age 88 in Nashville. I first met him in the funny pages but didn’t know then he was a Demon Deacon. He was the inspiration behind the Rev. Will B. Dunn in “Kudzu,” the syndicated comic strip created by my late friend and fellow Charlotte Observer editorial board veteran Doug Marlette.

Rev. Will B. Dunn of "Kudzu"

Rev. Will B. Dunn of “Kudzu”

Marlette had the eccentric cartoon version of Campbell tell it like it was. In one strip, Rev. Dunn said, “Lord, I know we’re called to be fishers of men. But I want to throw ‘em all back.”

In a 1992 article, journalist David L. Langford described Campbell this way: “Here’s a whiskey-swilling, tobacco-spitting, guitar-picking Baptist preacher and truck farmer who is a widely respected writer, thinker, humorist and ex-officio chaplain to the Grand Ole Opry crowd. He doesn’t have a church — a steeple as he puts it — and doesn’t want one.”

Last year, during Words Awake!, Wake Forest honored an inaugural class of inductees to the Wake Forest Writers Hall of Fame. Campbell (’48, L.H.D. ’84) naturally was among the honorees. His “Brother to a Dragonfly” was a finalist for the 1978 National Book Award and named one of the 10 best religious books of the 1970s by Time. But our Wake Forest notable author was unable to attend the ceremony. His son, Webb (’81), returned on his behalf to a campus where his daughter, Kyle (’14), attends, to be joined this fall by brother and freshman Will D. Campbell II. We didn’t know then that the Rev. Campbell was struggling to recover from a stroke he suffered in 2011. What we did know and laud was his national, historic reputation as a voice of conscience in the South’s struggles against racism.

Campbell was born to Mississippi cotton farmers in 1924 and became an ordained Baptist minister at 17. He served in the Army during World War II and arrived at Wake Forest afterward, majoring in English. You can find no activities listed under his name in The Howler of 1948, but Campbell more than made up for that omission in his unparalleled life of social activism and advocacy for the marginalized.

Campbell's senior photo in The Howler

Campbell’s senior photo in The Howler

He attended Tulane University, earned his theology degree from Yale Divinity School, pastored a church in Louisiana, became an integrationist chaplain at Ole Miss and served as a field officer for the National Council of Churches. He was the only white person present at the founding of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference by the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.

Wherever there were momentous events in the civil rights movement, Campbell typically had a role: counseling Freedom Riders; participating in boycotts and sit-ins; challenging the clergy to step up on behalf of society’s forgotten ones; helping escort the nine black students through angry mobs at Central High School in Little Rock.

In 1984, along with Eudora Welty, he came to Wake Forest to receive an honorary degree at Commencement. Wake Forest Magazine welcomed him “home to his college,” adding in an article that year: “In a pickup truck, carrying a Gibson guitar and whittling a cedar stick, and wearing a black plowman’s hat, Campbell preaches and sings and saves.” As The New York Times noted in Campbell’s obituary yesterday, his friends and followers called him “hilarious, profound, inspiring and apocalyptic” as he stomped around “uttering streams of sacred and profane commentary that found their way into books, articles, lectures and sermons.” In 2000 Bill Clinton awarded him the National Endowment for the Humanities medal. A PBS documentary, “God’s Will,” profiles his life.

This week Bill Leonard, the Divinity School’s founding dean, who holds the James and Marilyn Dunn Chair of Baptist Studies, offers a must-read remembrance of Campbell called “The Freedom of Will” at ABPnews.com. Leonard examines the paradox of a man who witnessed unspeakable “meanness” all around him in the turbulent South but who never gave up on grace.

He also recounts a fine Wake Forest anecdote: “Will once told me that he fully understood the name “Demon Deacons” for the Wake Forest University mascot. ‘Hell,’ he commented, ‘anybody who’s ever been in a Baptist church knows at least one demon deacon!’ Will could sanctify profanity like no one else.”

Kyle Webster's portrait of Campbell for Words Awake!

Kyle Webster’s portrait of Campbell for Words Awake!

Campbell was truly a distinguished alumnus, ahead of his time, and, through it all, as brave in the cities as in the backwoods.

Steve Duin’s view from the West Coast to the Grand Canal on Words Awake!

Steve Duin (’76, MA ’79) joined the crowd of Wake Forest alumni writers who returned on March 23 for the Words Awake! writers conference, but he didn’t leave the experience behind after he landed at home in Portland. He treated his Oregon newspaper readers to his take on what made the event special, including his appreciation for his time at Casa Artom in Venice and the guidance provided by the inimitable James Barefield, Wake Forest history professor and purveyor of the comic view.

Portland's Steve Duin

Duin is metro columnist for The (Portland) Oregonian and is the author or co-author of six books, the latest of which is “Oil and Water,” a graphic novel illustrated by New Yorker cartoonist Shannon Wheeler. He served on the Words Awake! panel titled “Writing Sports,” an appropriate topic for someone who penned a compelling cover story for Wake Forest Magazine last summer about baseball coach Tom Walter’s gift of a kidney to then-freshman and centerfielder Kevin Jordan.

“Some of us are lucky. We happened upon Wake Forest, often by chance, and when we’re asked why we love the place, we remember Sunday mornings on the Quad, Saturday nights at the stadium and Wednesday afternoons with the romantic poets,” he wrote. “But everyone else? This is the story they will remember. When they hear the words ‘Wake Forest,’ they will celebrate the kidney that passed from Tom Walter to Kevin Jordan, a gift as big as life. And when they become fathers, this is the history they will tell their sons.”

Look for Duin’s next story that explains the University’s literary tradition in the Wake Forest Magazine summer issue, arriving in mailboxes in June. Here’s a preview of what’s in store: “And there were few checkpoints where we had to flash credentials, pay our dues or beg for permission.  When we were still clueless, Wake Forest allowed us to make waves and mistakes.  When we were still searching for God knows what, the University encouraged us to push the limits, exploit our immaturity, even take our innocence abroad to London, Venice or Ireland. You want to know why so many Wake grads became writers?  Because when we walked into the room with a novel idea, someone’s eyes lit up.”

Joy Goodwin ('95) and Steve Duin at Words Awake!

In the photo above, you see Duin with Joy Goodwin (’95). The two share a love for Barefield. (The upcoming summer issue also features a Goodwin piece about the peripatetic professor who enjoys being a character.)

In the meantime, don’t miss Duin’s tribute in The Oregonian to Barefield in which he writes, “He and I have remained close over the years, a friendship that owes as much to the intimacy of Wake Forest as it does to the intensity of the Venice program.”

‘Healing Reads’ includes Wake Forest author Amidon

The Wall Street Journal today listed “Healing Reads: The Year’s Five Best Books,” including one reporter Laura Landro called “a lyrical history of the human heart.” That history’s co-author is novelist Stephen Amidon (’81), who wrote “The Sublime Engine: A Biography of the Human Heart,” with Dr. Thomas Amidon, his cardiologist brother.

The book examines the heart in medicine and culture — and its power beyond its role as an organ. “Even as the organ became the central image in religion and the arts for describing those qualities that make us the most human — Shakespeare’s tale of Antony and Cleopatra, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein — it took centuries to fully understand its physical properties,” Landro writes. She goes on to say that the authors provide “a roadmap to the heart’s chambers, its electrical impulses, and its defects, as well as a basic primer about the interventions that have made it possible for broken hearts to beat on.”

Interviewed by National Public Radio earlier in the year, alumnus Amidon discussed how the heart’s metaphorical power has persisted despite the technological innovations to address the physical heart from the time “the great anatomists of the Renaissance” began cutting open bodies to the surgical interventions today.

“So perhaps there will be a day when we no longer touch our chest and kind of nod, and people understand we’re talking about qualities that can’t be explained by medicine — we’re talking about courage or devotion or inspiration,” Amidon told NPR. “You can have a situation where someone receives an artificial heart, and afterward goes to their surgeon and says, ‘I thank you for this from the bottom of my heart.’ This will make complete sense to us.”

In other words, the power of the heart  — “we leave our hearts in San Francisco, wear them on our sleeves, speak straight from them” — endures.

Look for Stephen Amidon at Wake Forest during Words Awake!, a writers’ conference that begins on March 23. He is one of Wake Forest’s literary luminaries, scheduled to return to campus to share his experiences at what organizers hope will be a vibrant weekend celebration of Wake Forest writers and writing.