In every class I have taught since coming to grad school, I have paid tribute on the first day to the UNC journalism professors who inspired me to want to teach journalism.
Now, to this list of lions I will add the name of a truly legendary University of Georgia journalism professor. This man not only reaffirmed my commitment to the calling to teach, but served as a model for what I should strive to become both in and out of the classroom.
Fink, the former foreign correspondent and newspaper executive turned J-school icon, died Saturday after a courageous 20-year battle with prostate cancer.
As I and the rest of the Grady College family mourn the loss of Professor Fink, I am proud to count myself among the legions of Finkites or Finksters whose career was touched by a man whose stature and reputation (like his signature bushy eyebrows) seemed larger than life.
Fink was a mentor, a colleague and a friend. Fink was and in many ways still is the heart and soul of Grady College.
One of the last occassions I saw Professor Fink, in his office about a month ago, he was reflective of his life’s work. He said that he felt fortunate to have had not one, but two, long, successful meaningful careers.
Fink was the consummate journalist. I’ve never met a man or woman who loved or cared for the newspaper industry and journalism profession as much or as deeply as Fink did.
But teaching was Fink’s true calling and where he left his greatest mark.
Look at what Fink wrote in his teaching statement, included in the application material for one of the University system’s highest teaching honors:
For although as a journalist I touched thousands–millions, perhaps, on big stories I covered–my touch was fleeting, the impressions I left soon were washed over by bigger stories that always came rolling along.
In teaching, I found, my touch could be formative, truly meaningful, truly lasting. And isn’t that–learning and leaving footprints–what a creative, rewarding life should be all about?
Fink definitely lived a creative, rewarding life and left behind meaningful footprints. Fink’s impact has been seen by the “rascals” and “pals” he left behind. There have been many blog posts, newspaper articles, columns, tweets and Facebook rememberances written and shared by Fink’s students, colleagues and friends.
Fink’s reach was far. Fink affectionately called his students “rascals.” In this oral history project interview (around the 31:17-33 minute mark on the audio file available by clicking “listen to the full interview” link above the embedded video– I’d recommend the listen, Fink’s warmth and humor comes across in this clip), Fink tells the students, “I’m on a mission to convert rascals to journalists.”
Mission accomplished, pal.