A Letter from the Dean on the Passing of Richard Wald | Columbia Journalism School

A Letter from the Dean on the Passing of Richard Wald

Dear Members of the J-School Community,

I write with the sad news that Professor Emeritus Richard Wald, a leader in national broadcast journalism who had an impactful second act at our school as a teacher and professional ethicist, died earlier today at the age of 92 after a sudden and brief illness.

All who knew Dick remember his kindness and his thoughtful understanding of ethics and standards in professional journalism, as well as his deep knowledge of American government and politics. In Pulitzer Hall, he was impossible to miss – a tall, elegant figure in bespoke suits from London that still fit him well many years after their acquisition. His son Jonathan, an adjunct professor who sometimes co-taught ethics classes with him, noted as well that he somehow always managed to talk his way into parking his car on College Walk.

Over the years, Dick taught ethics to hundreds of J-school students in the fall and summer semesters, and in the spring, students vied to get into his wildly popular National Affairs Reporting class. Though he believed they signed up because of the field trips to Albany or Washington, the real draw was Dick himself. A renowned raconteur, he also connected his students with a career's worth of contacts, guests who helped him illuminate the issues playing out on the national stage: religious leaders, ambassadors, local government officials, heads of major news organizations, beat reporters, even - as one student noted in an evaluation - the owner of a grocery store.

Professor Emeritus Betsy West, Dick’s immediate successor as the school’s Fred Friendly Professor for media and society, remembers him as “a vigorous supporter of the broadcast and later documentary programs. Prior to Columbia, I knew him as my boss for many years at ABC News starting in the mid 80's. Though he had ascended to the role of TV executive, Dick was at heart a reporter: curious about the world, skeptical of conventional  thinking, and devoted to getting the story right. Unflappable and sensible, he was the person to consult during a crisis or ethical quandary, as I did so many times when he was at ABC and after when he had become my colleague and friend.”

Born in Manhattan, Dick was educated at Stuyvesant High and Columbia College, where he served on the editorial board of The Spectator. He began his career at the New York Herald-Tribune, where he served as a foreign correspondent in London, Bonn and Africa before becoming the paper’s managing editor. He worked with such trailblazers of “new journalism” as Jimmy Breslin, Gail Sheehy and Tom Wolfe.

Edith Wald, Dick’s wife of 67 years, passed last year. In addition to Jonathan, Dick is survived by his son Matthew and his daughter Elizabeth, as well as seven grandchildren and one great-grandson.

He will be dearly missed. We’ll keep you posted about memorials to come.

Steve