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Donald Gillmor Tribute

Former Director of the Silha Center and Silha Professor Donald M. Gillmor passed away on February 14, 2013.

A press release from the School of Journalism and Mass Communication, University of Minnesota, Twin Cities, and tributes from colleagues, former students and friends follows:

Donald M. Gillmor
Donald M. Gillmor

SJMC Press release:

Donald M. Gillmor, professor of journalism and mass communication at the University of Minnesota, died on February 14, 2013. He was 86 years old.

Gillmor was known internationally as a leading expert on media law and ethics. His many years of teaching and research "shaped the major contours of the field of mass communication law," said Daniel Wackman, former director of the School of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of Minnesota. Gillmor's many publications included the seminal Mass Communication Law: Cases and Comment (with Jerome A. Barron), in its 6th edition in 1998, which is used throughout the country by students and scholars in the field. In 1970, the first edition received the Frank Luther Mott Research Award from Kappa Tau Alpha, the field's honor society.

Gillmor joined Minnesota's faculty in 1965. From 1984 to 1995, he served as the founding director of the Silha Center for the Study of Media Ethics and Law, which was endowed by the late Otto Silha, a former executive with The Minneapolis Star and The Minneapolis Tribune and their parent company Cowles Media. In 1990, Gillmor was named the first Silha Professor of Media Ethics and Law, a position he held until his retirement from Minnesota in 1998. "The Silha Center is unique in the world," said Jane E. Kirtley, the current Silha Professor and director of the Silha Center. "Don was the inspiration for Otto Silha to endow both the Silha Center and the professorship. Don's research and teaching embodied the marriage between these two related but distinct aspects of media scholarship. His legacy continues to influence our research, publications, outreach and support for graduate and law students at the Silha Center."

Gillmor earned his bachelor's degree in liberal arts from the University of Manitoba in 1949, and a year later a master's degree in journalism from the University of Minnesota. He joined the editorial staff of the Winnipeg Free Press in 1950 where he was a reporter and copyreader. He was also a part-time copyreader for the Fargo Forum and the Grand Forks Herald while serving on the faculty of the University of North Dakota from 1953 to1965. He was the first director there of an all-university honors program. He was awarded his doctorate in mass communication from the University of Minnesota in 1961.

In addition to Mass Communication Law, his many articles and books include Power, Publicity, and the Abuse of Libel Law (1992); Media Freedom and Accountability (co-editor, 1989); Enduring Issues in Mass Communication (co-editor, 1978); and Free Press and Fair Trial (1966).

He was a frequent guest on radio and television regarding discussions of media and made dozens of presentations to community groups and academic and professional gatherings. In 1999 he received the Al McIntosh Distinguished Service to Journalism Award from the Minnesota Newspaper Association.

Gillmor's first award for distinguished teaching was made by students, faculty and alumni of the University of North Dakota in 1959. He received two similar awards from the Minnesota Press Club in 1975 and 1978. In 1993 he received the Horace T. Morse - Minnesota Alumni Association Award for outstanding contributions to undergraduate education. Ball State, Saint Cloud State and Washington and Lee universities gave him First Amendment awards in 1984, 1992 and 1993 respectively. He was cited for "contributions to student experience" by the University of Minnesota student Alumni Board of Governors in 1985, and he received the George Hage/Mitch Charnley Award of Excellence from the Minnesota Daily Alumni Association in 1996. That same year he received the Constitutional Law Award from the Minneapolis law firm of Mansfield, Tanick and Cohen. In 2009, he received the University of Minnesota School of Journalism and Mass Communication Alumni Society's Award for Excellence.

In 1990, Gillmor was selected as a Senior Fellow at the Gannett Center for Media Studies at Columbia University and assigned to Columbia's law faculty. He was also a visiting professor of American Studies and Mass Communication at the University of Munich in Germany and a visiting professor of political science at the University of Lund in Sweden. He also lectured in Russia, South Korea and Taiwan. He was always available to local and national publications and broadcasters for advice on questions of media ethics and law. And he served on numerous professional and academic boards and committees.

Gillmor is survived by his wife of 63 years, Sophie; daughter, Vivian Cathcart of Toronto; son, Peter; and grandsons, Steven Cathcart, and Kevin and Geoffrey Gillmor. He is also survived by brothers Douglas and Alan. A memorial service will take place at Roseville Memorial Chapel, 2245 N. Hamline Avenue, Roseville, MN, on Saturday, February 23 at 4 p.m.

Memorial gifts may be directed to the Donald Gillmor Fund at the School of Journalism and Mass Communication. Checks should be made payable to the University of Minnesota and can be mailed directly to The Donald Gillmor Memorial Fund, c/o University of Minnesota Foundation, C-M 3854, PO Box 70880, Saint Paul, MN 55170-3854. To give online, click here. All gifts will be matched by the School of Journalism & Mass Communication.


The Silha Center for the Study of Media Ethics & Law was established in 1984 with an endowment from Otto and Helen Silha. Located within the School of Journalism & Mass Communication at the University of Minnesota, the Silha Center is the vanguard of the School's interest in the ethical responsibilities and legal rights of the mass media in a democratic society.

The School of Journalism & Mass Communication (SJMC) at the University of Minnesota is part of the College of Liberal Arts and is accredited by the Accrediting Council for Journalism and Mass Communication.

Don Gillmor – Master Teacher, Model Scholar, Mentor and Friend

A great part of Don Gillmor’s vast legacy is his contributions to First Amendment and media ethics issues and education. One former student said “I believe his work was key to the openness of Minnesota’s state government.” He “met regularly with an ongoing group ... to protect free press and open records in Minnesota.” Further, “Throughout his career, Professor Gillmor served as the Minnesota Daily’s volunteer unofficial legal adviser.” A former Minnesota Daily adviser called him “essential to” Daily student staff’s “strategy on how to respond to a subpoena for unpublished material” in the 1990s. Don “met repeatedly with students and brought together lawyers and media professionals to react to the subpoena.”

Don was a founding member of the University’s Ethics Consortium, AEJMC Law Division, and Free Press-Fair Trial Council of Minnesota. His scholarship on the First Amendment may have been the most cited. But he was particularly proud that Lewis Powell, in his inaugural address as president of the American Bar Association, and the U.S. Supreme Court in Nebraska Press Association v. Stuart (1976) cited his work. Not one to rest on his laurels, Don saw the sixth edition (co-authored) of his widely used text, Mass Communication Law: Cases and Comment, published the same year he retired.

Don will be remembered as a model scholar and educator. When I reflect on the 19 years that we worked together on the SJMC faculty, I realize that working with him taught me much about how to be a teacher, scholar, colleague, friend, human being. During those 19 years before he retired in 1998, I observed Don at work in committees, classrooms, the Silha Center for the Study of Media Ethics and Law, graduate education and varying public arenas. I participated with him in initial discussions about establishing the Silha Center, its missions and goals, and later served briefly as its acting director when Don was on sabbatical. But Don and I worked most closely together during my first six years on the faculty, when we co-developed and team-taught “Mass Media in History and Law,” a course that emerged from curriculum reform after I joined the faculty in 1979. We taught the course at least two quarter terms and summers annually, and, although we individually presented different segments, both of us participated in every class.

Seeing him interact with undergraduate students in that large class, which filled the Murphy Hall auditorium, was an education apart, and uniquely its own – for me as well as for the students.  His demeanor alone encouraged class participation and students wanted to ask him good questions. In responding, he skillfully led students into discussions with follow-up questions, stimulating more questions and creating a “conversation.” Following such an exchange, the pride of realized-success in a student’s face and posture was clear. It was the way Don engaged students that empowered them intellectually and marked him as a master teacher. He had ways of subtly defusing students’ embarrassment about their “mistakes” so they would not be inhibited in expressing themselves. While never allowing the importance of getting one’s facts correct to slide, he put any student error into perspective, noting it was “easy to make,” or telling an amusing anecdote to counter any self-negating feelings a student might have about making a “dumb mistake” in class.

An individual who worked with Don for nine years noted his respect for students – and his humor – among his outstanding traits. “First,” she said, was his “‘unflappability,’ a steady and calmly reassuring demeanor no matter what was happening around him.  Second was his unfailing courtesy when working with students, his respect for their opinions, even when they deviated from his own. Third was his scholarship and his love for his work; his sense of humor, his sense of irony, his curiosity – passion, even – about a variety of subjects,” and concluded that “The Silha Center is one of a kind, and so is Don.”

One former student of a class taught by Don in the late 1960s called him “so important to me at a vital time in my life. He was my role model on so many levels, from dressing well to thinking critically about politics and mass media,” saying: "When I was overly certain of my views on Marshall McLuhan, he cautioned me to consider how a person’s ideas could evolve over time. When I dismissed Spiro Agnew’s attacks on the media, he placed them in a context of academic criticism but cautioned about the chilling effect of such pressure from the government."

Don arranged for and accompanied some of his senior Ph.D. students to observe some notable case arguments before the U.S. Supreme Court. And there was that great “birthday celebration” for Near v. Minnesota in 1981. He organized a weekend conference packed with stellar jurists, legal theorists, professors. Exhilarating intellectual exchanges provided memorable experiences for all present, but especially for invited junior faculty and graduate students who met people who had written about First Amendment theory or authored some majority opinions they had studied, but were known to them only as names. As host and moderator, Don’s grace and eloquence, as always, stood out, making this the conference to emulate.

Don was always graceful, thoughtful, compassionate, purposeful, humble, both humane and human. Knowing of a staff member’s “crush” on Tom Selleck when Selleck was to speak in Minneapolis, Don casually arranged to take the staff member, using a ruse – perhaps a luncheon – to a (surprise) meeting with Tom Selleck. The staff member came away with an autographed photo and an indelible memory. The friendship between Don and a colleague, with whom he was perceived by many to disagree about some fundamentals, serves as a model of particular relevance today. After some especially tense faculty meetings at the end of some very long days, I recall seeing the two senior professors walking together toward the parking lot, briefcases in hand, while engaged in relaxed conversation.

I could offer many more examples of observing Don’s work from which I learned immensely. I and others could try to emulate, but there was – and will ever be – only one Don Gillmor.  Only he could teach as he did and deploy an inimitable influence so elegantly.

Hazel Dicken-Garcia,
Professor Emerita, School of Journalism and Mass Communication,
University of Minnesota

Appreciating Don Gillmor

For generations of graduate students at the University of Minnesota, Donald M. Gillmor was indispensable as their teacher, mentor, guide and friend. I was privileged to be one of them and was, in fact, drawn to Minnesota and Murphy Hall by Don's reputation as a scholar and renowned expert on media law. In the rumpled world of college teaching he exuded an elegance of style – and an eloquence in the classroom that offered a pathway to his substantive depth and passion for freedom of expression. Importantly he was a scholar, not an advocate. As his doctoral student, I was privileged to join him on several papers and articles. Later as a colleague, this collaboration continued in two books.

He was generous and helpful, reading his students' work with a gimlet eye and never afraid to make the kinds of critical comments that drive learning and change. And to know Don was to know the magnificent Sophie as they opened their home to students and joined in the merriment of student parties and dinners. He was, of course, eminent in his field, much admired for his early work on free press-fair trial and best known for his casebook co-authored with Jerome Barron, but also for subsequent articles and a notable book on libel. Unlike some legal scholars, he informed his work with social science and had a masterful command of the literature of communications. He knew and connected well with scholars and faculty colleagues everywhere and never forgot his own humble academic beginnings as an assistant professor in North Dakota. He was ever and always a Canadian as his passion for curling attested. Although he eventually became a U.S citizen, he never lost that outsider's insightful capacity to look at America with distance and reserve. He once considered studying medicine, but chose journalism instead and eventually traded the newsroom for graduate school and the classroom. While fiercely proud of his place in the academy, he had comfortable contact with media professionals always commanding their respect. He could be deadly serious, but had a finely tuned sense of humor. I recall his pleasure – and feigned embarrassment – when he was named one of America's sexiest college professors by Esquire magazine. "I always urged my students to publish or be published, but this wasn't what I had in mind," he said in deadpan manner.

Some years after leaving Minnesota, I got an unexpected bonus when Don and Sophie came to New York for a year when he accepted a senior fellowship at the Media Studies Center at Columbia on my watch there. It was a chance once again to see him almost every day and to witness his graceful interactions with his fellow fellows who soon discovered what Don's friends and colleagues had admired and loved about him all along. He will be missed by many and mightily so.

Everette E. Dennis,
Dean and CEO,
Northwestern University Qatar

A Tribute to Don Gillmor

“You can sit in on my class, but only if you promise you’ll say nothing.”

That was Don’s response to my asking him 15 years ago if I might attend his graduate-level freedom of speech class.  It was his signature class, and this was to be the last time he would teach that class, as he had announced his retirement.

The following day I entered his small Murphy Hall classroom, packed with the best and brightest of SJMC’s graduate crop, and settled into a desk seat in the back row.  A few minutes later Don entered the room, slowly scanned all the assembled faces and began his lecture, frequently stopping to ask questions, gently badger students and pace around his desk, all the while discussing the Founding Fathers’ intent when it came to protecting speech.

True to my promise I kept my mouth shut.  Then, with 10 minutes remaining at the end of the class, Don looked at me and asked, “Prof. Babcock, how would you see this from an ethics perspective?”  I looked him in silent disbelief.  After a few seconds of awkward silence he looked at me and gave a slow, slight nod, that I took to mean I had a reprieve from my vow of silence.

I responded, he countered.  I made another point; he deftly parried.  I made a third point; he agreed.  This spirited repartee continued until the end of the class.  But not only for the first class, but Don subsequently asked me to give my “ethics perspective” during the final 10 minutes of each freedom of speech class that spring semester.  And in each class my comments provided the springboard for a spirited point-counterpoint discussion between Don and myself.

On the last day of the semester, on the last day of Don’s last SJMC class, faculty members assembled in his classroom where a cake was served.  Don reluctantly yielded his desk so that I might pay tribute to him to the assembled faculty and to his class.  As I looked down at the desk he had just vacated, I noticed his stack of 5X8” lecture card notes, I realized that he had updated his notes with court decisions as recently as a few weeks ago – a tribute to the timely diligence with which he approached every class, even his last.  He simply would have considered it unethical to his students to not keep current on legal issues.

To those who knew him, it’s no surprise Don considered ethics to be at the core of the First Amendment’s protection of freedom of speech.  Don viewed the law as a sort of institutionalized morality, and he considered laws without a strong moral underpinning to be vacuous.

Some 20 years ago he related to me the story of the naming of the Silha Center for the Study of Media Ethics and Law.  He told me that he had worked with Otto Silha, the center’s benefactor, to make sure the words of the center’s name were in proper order, with “study,” being of primary importance as scholarship and research were to be at the epicenter of the center’s mission.   He then said that even though he, the center’s founding director, was a First Amendment scholar, it was important that “ethics” precede “law” in the center’s title.

At the 1998 retirement media ethics and law conference held in the Twin Cities to honor Don, papers were presented by the who’s-who of media responsibility and rights, including Jerome Barron, Ann Kappler, Donald Pember, Robert Trager, Clifford Christians, Deni Elliott, Louis Hodges, Timothy Gleason, John Borger, Joanne Byrd, James Naughton and John Walsh.  James Goodale, Theodore Glasser and Mark Yudof moderated panels.  All were stars in a universe where Don was the shining constellation.

Dr. Donald M. Gillmor: journalist, eminent legal scholar, ardent First Amendment advocate, proud Canadian of Scottish ancestry, defender of the underdog, winner of the University of Minnesota’s top researcher and top teacher awards, ardent lover of his wife Sophie, devoted father to Peter and Vivian and connoisseur of 18-year-old single malt whisky.

It is a shame he did not live forever. 

But if he had to pass on, it seems only fitting that a man with a heart the size of Edinburgh’s Scott Monument, would leave us on Valentines Day.

William A. Babcock
Senior Ethics Professor
School of Journalism
Southern Illinois University Carbondale


Donald M. Gillmor: A Personal Tribute

It was impossible to be a graduate student in mass communication in the 1970s, as I was, and not know the name Donald M. Gillmor.  His Mass Communication Law, written with Jerome Barron, had just been published and was quickly gaining the attention of students and faculty.  It was big (853 pages) and expensive (no paperback option).  It wasn’t assigned in any of my classes, but I purchased a copy anyway, a sizeable investment for someone whose net worth was the Blue Book value of a 1963 Ford Falcon convertible.  It would have never occurred to me that less than a decade later I’d be one of Don’s colleagues at the University of Minnesota.      

I arrived at Minnesota in 1980 as a visiting assistant professor – and stayed for a decade.  Because it was initially a one-year appointment, with no expectations beyond that, there was no formal campus interview.  In the months between the official correspondence that accompanies any faculty appointment and my move to Minneapolis, one member of the Minnesota faculty took it upon himself to send me an informal and unofficial letter, a personal welcome to the Twin Cities.  That note from Don, which I’ve kept all these years, marked the beginning of a relationship that in so many ways changed my life.

Don became not only my colleague but my friend and mentor.  We developed a special chemistry, which for me became a tremendous source of intellectual energy.  We argued incessantly and passionately, though never disagreeably.  We argued about the scope and meaning of the First Amendment.  We argued about the purpose of a free press.  We argued about the competing imperatives of disclosure and discretion, when unimpeded communication takes its toll on individual privacy.  We argued about tensions within the Constitution, beginning but not ending with the familiar free press-fair trial controversy, which was topic of Don’s first book.  It’s not easy to pinpoint what, precisely, animated our debates, except to say that, fundamentally, Don had more faith than I did in the legacy of Locke and the Enlightenment.  

Don could be blunt, harsh and opinionated – but at the same time kind, open and eager to entertain a serious rebuttal.  Don told me on more than a few occasions how much he enjoyed our arguments, though, looking back, that may have been because he almost always overpowered me with his charm, wit and erudition.  Whatever, it was incredibly empowering for an untenured junior faculty member to be able to work with a senior scholar who invited debate and dissent. 

Just as empowering was the role Don invited me to play as his protégé in the early years of Minnesota’s Silha Center for the Study of Media Ethics and Law.  Don was the obvious and only candidate for the inaugural directorship of the Silha Center, a position that needed someone with seniority and authority – in a word, gravitas.  By some lesser standard of scrutiny, I was appointed associate director.  But titles didn’t matter to Don.  We worked as partners, as a team.  Together we began to shape the future of the Center by bringing to campus scholars – Stuart Hall and Kathleen Hall Jamieson among them – who had little to say about law per se but lots to say about the larger cultural, political and social context in which the law needed to be understood.        

Indeed, it was Don who insisted that “ethics” comes before “law” in the name of the Center, because he didn’t want ethics to become a residual topic, taken up only when the law failed to address something.  Don appreciated the significance of the difference between law and ethics – between what we have a right to do and what’s right to do – but he also understood why questions of ethics precede questions of law, why what’s ethical is a more foundational question than what’s legal. 

While Don wrote scores of articles and several books on various aspects of media law and ethics, Mass Communication Law stood out as his crowning achievement.  More than a textbook or a work of reference, it provided a template for the field, a taxonomy of issues and ideas others could – and did – use to organize their own research and teaching.  A remarkable source of information and insight, Mass Communication Law became a project and a process, an opportunity for Don to continually re-examine a rapidly changing field.  Anyone who visited Don in his small and cramped office in the basement of Murphy Hall could easily tell how far along he was with the next edition.  On a file cabinet across from his desk he kept the current edition, stuffed with index cards.  Each card, inserted in the proper chapter, listed something – a new case, a new treatise – that invited his attention. 

In our last substantive exchange, in late 2004, nearly 15 years after I had moved to California and just before his health began to deteriorate, Don sent me a long and detailed email in response to a draft of a book chapter I had sent him in which I argued that through their visceral attachment to autonomy, American journalists had positioned themselves as adversaries of accountability.  As always, he read my work with the mind of a scholar, the eye of an editor and the disposition of a friend.  In the span of a few paragraphs, Don managed to squeeze in references to Jefferson, Adams, a couple of contemporary media scholars, then New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer, consumer advocate Ralph Nader, and a Supreme Court case.  He congratulated me on my “idealism” and “eloquence” but pointed out that in my conclusion I sounded “just a bit like” Nader, which wasn’t meant as a compliment.  Then the penultimate paragraph, a single sentence: “The word ‘discernible’ is misspelled on page 14.” 

Don Gillmor won many awards for his teaching, research and public service.  He also won my heartfelt affection, admiration and gratitude.

Theodore L. Glasser
Professor of Journalism,
Department of Communication,
Stanford University


Remembering a Marvelous Friend: Don Gillmor

“Five good friends are worth more than all the castles in Camelot.”

Don Gillmor spoke those words to my wife, Kathy, during a particularly difficult time during my time as Director of the School (School of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of Minnesota).  He was offering his support to us, assuring us that we could always count on his friendship.  I always did count on it.

Kathy and I first met Don and Sophie when we came to the Twin Cities looking for housing in 1971 after I was hired to become the Director of the Research Division.  Bob Jones, Director of the School, took us to Lindey’s, a well-known steak house in Arden Hills, along with the Tichenors and Gillmors.  We had a wonderful night with delicious food, funny stories, and convivial friendship.  As we were parting, I learned one of Don’s strong traits – he was outspoken and opinionated.  When asked what he thought of the food, he simply proclaimed, “Boring.”

Over the next few years, we became good friends with the Gillmors and Tichenors, cross-country skiing with them regularly and sharing dinners periodically. When our family grew, we had less time to spend with our friends, but I well remember the late night gatherings we had at Gillmors, often following an SJMC event.  We’d crowd into a large tend they had in their backyard with faculty, such as George Hage and Irv Fang, graduate students and staff members, like Jean Olson, who later became a Ph.D. student, and Kathleen from the Silha Center.  Sophie would whip up a spread to accompany the beer and wine they served, with perhaps Scotch for those who Don knew appreciated it.  People flocked to the Gillmors’ house because they were so welcoming and because they were fun to be around.

Those gatherings illustrated one of Don’s (and Sophie’s as well) greatest strengths.  He gave respect to everyone with whom he was interacting, treating them to the gift of full attention.  When Don was talking with a repairman at his home, a staff member in Murphy Hall, an undergrad student or a graduate advisee, he was just as attentive as when he was speaking with Deans or Vice Presidents at the University or top officials at media companies.  As a mark of his respect, Don spoke at the memorial services of a number of colleagues, but he also spoke at the funeral of Mary Ann Lukanen, a 30-year staff member.  In closing his remarks, he touched her casket and said, “Good bye, dear friend.”

Don’s eloquence is well-known, of course.  What is not so well known is that he always kept his dictionary right next to him when he read.  When he ran across a word he didn’t know, he’d reach for that dictionary.  I heard recently that students in middle school and high school are supposed to learn 3,000 new words each year.  One of the tips they gave to parents was to keep a dictionary in a prominent place and use it whenever someone doesn’t know a word.  Well, imagine how many words Don Gillmor knew after following that tip throughout his life, and he used them.  Peter Gillmor told me that Don had recently described Rosedale as “that place with a cavalcade of stores.”  This past summer, Don gave his dictionary, now tattered and falling apart, to Kathy as a remembrance.

Don’s greatest love at the University was his students.  He always kept his door open to answer questions, serve as a mentor, provide guidance on projects, or feedback on ideas.  Students responded to Don, respected him, and remembered the impact he had on them.

Kathy and I traveled to Taiwan when I was Director, and we had the good fortune of having lunch with about a dozen graduates of our M.A. or Ph.D. programs.  They wanted to hear about a number of their professors, but the name that came up most often was Don’s, who they referred to as “Professor Donald M. Gillmor.”

For several years, my office was right next to Don’s in the basement of Murphy Hall.  Don frequently had a line of students waiting to talk: students from his classes, undergraduate advisees, graduate students working on theses and dissertations, staff members from the Daily.  Periodically, he’d complain that he wasn’t able to do some writing or prepare his lectures because of all the students.  Finally after hearing another complaint, I said, “There’s an easy solution, Don; just close your door.”

He quickly replied, “But that’s my job, Dan – to work with students who need my help.”

For me, as for many of his colleagues and students, Don was a role model, a mentor, a supporter, a friend, and much, much more.  Last Friday, Kathy and I took our four hockey-playing granddaughters to see the undefeated Gopher Women’s hockey team play.  I bumped into Greg Smith, an alum who was on the SJMC Alumni Board when I was Director.  I told him Don had passed away the day before.  Greg shook his head, then said: “Professor Gillmor was one of the few people who made the world a better place just by being who he was.”

I know many of us agree with that sentiment.

I’ll end by paraphrasing Don’s farewell at Mary Ann’s funeral:  “Good bye dear friend.  I love you, Don.”

Daniel Wackman
Professor, School of Journalism and Mass Communication
University of Minnesota

Additional tributes for Donald M. Gillmor arrived by e-mail from around the world:

From: Bob Drechsel,
Professor of Journalism & Mass Communication
University of Wisconsin-Madison

Don was my Ph.D. adviser. Indeed, he was the reason I pursued the Ph.D., something I might not otherwise have contemplated.  He was the reason I became intrigued with media law. He was instrumental in my getting my first academic job, temporary teaching at South Dakota State that convinced me to stay in the academic world. So my debt to Don is considerable in a very practical way.  But above all, when I think of Don's influence, the words "excellence" and "principled" are the first to come to mind.  Don gave me -- and I'm sure countless others -- a vision of excellence, an expectation that only the highest quality work of any kind is acceptable.  He modeled this in his own teaching and scholarship, and it was clear he expected the same of his students and colleagues. And, forgive the cliché, he had the courage of his convictions.  He knew what he valued, he was unflinching, he practiced what he preached. He was indeed a man of principle.  His influence is immeasurable.

From: Dave Martinson
MA 70, PhD 74
Tallahassee, Florida

A Tribute to Don Gillmor —Teacher and Friend:

I would like to provide a slightly different tribute to Dr. Gillmor.  After we left the Twin Cities, I kept in contact with him via mail and, later, e-mail--asking innumerable questions about various points of media law.  Each time we returned to visit family in the Twin Cities area, I also made it a point to stick my head in his office door to say hello.  After he retired our contacts declined, but on one visit I called and in the process of our discussion noted that we were visiting in conjunction with the baptism of our new grandson.  "David, I'd like to come," he said.  I protested, saying the gesture was sincerely appreciated but that I didn't want to inconvenience him.  "No," he insisted, "I really would like to come.  Where is it at?" I told him it was at Corpus Christi Catholic Church in Roseville.  "Oh gosh," he said, "I can walk there."  Sure enough, on the day of our new grandson's baptism, Dr. Gillmor came--dressed as immaculate as ever despite walking from his home.  It was a wonderful gesture that I shall always remember. It was also one of the last times I saw him.

From: Herbert A. Terry
President-Elect Bloomington Faculty Council
Professor Emeritus
Department of Telecommunications
Indiana University
Bloomington, IN

Friends and Colleagues –

I've returned to Bloomington, IN from Don's memorial service in Roseville, MN. I thought I'd share some observations on that service with those on this list, many of whom were unable to attend it. There's a story behind the obituary. Don left behind an obituary that he had written. It was apparently lengthy (Sophie, I think, told me that the funeral home folks said it would cost $2,000 to print in the Minneapolis newspapers!). It had to be edited; a task whoever did it approached with trepidation.

The service was as joyful as possible for the occasion. The chapel at the funeral home was full -- my guess, somewhere between 150 and 200 people. It was an appropriate mix of family, family friends, professional colleagues (both academic and journalistic) and former students. In addition to Don's two brothers, and his children Vivien and Peter, other family and friends briefly and fondly spoke. Former faculty colleagues who spoke included Phil Tichenor, Irving Fang, Dan Wackman and Hazel Dicken-Garcia.

Don's son, Peter (I think) used a word that stuck in my mind as I drove back to Bloomington -- "reverberations." That was something many folks, without using the word, emphasized; the multigenerational impact Don had on folks -- in terms of their academic interests and careers but also in how they treated the other folks they influenced in their lives. Don's balance of interests between research and teaching, and between work at the university and attention to family, was often praised.

And, as noted, there was humor. Irving Fang reminded the group of Don's constant cartooning - especially during faculty meetings. I don't think I ever saw Don do a cartoon of a graduate student; he seemed to reserve those lampoons for his faculty colleagues. But I do remember being impressed with his artistic talent and, as always, his ability to capture reactions in a visual (as well as an aural) quip. Vivien reminisced about one of Don's quirks -- something I knew about back in the 1970s but had suppressed over the intervening years. It was Don's combination of dislike for the squirrels in his yard and his response to them -- live-trapping them and taking them to Como Park! Others remembered Don's conduct of classes, the delightful times many had at parties and social events hosted by Don and Sophie, and his passion for good Scotch and good company.

Sophie appears to be doing well. Don's mental state declined in recent years and, along with that, his ability to communicate. She believes he found that frustrating and, now, that frustration is over.

All-in-all, it was wonderful memorial to a wonderful person -- important in all our lives. The family asked, at the end of the service, for folks there to share any special memories with them at the reception that followed. Many stayed to do that (I did) and the family was happy to learn things about Don that they hadn't heard before. I suspect they would still be interested in any such memories and hope that Mary would forward any received to the family.

The School of Journalism and Mass Communication is seeking contributions to a fund to memorialize Don and continue to advance his interests.

From: John J. Walsh
Carter Ledyard & Milburn LLP
New York, NY

Dear Jane (Kirtley)–

Thank you for letting me know of Don Gillmor's passing. I do remember meeting him at a Silha convocation years ago and being very impressed by his achievements and contributions to the best in journalism. I am sure you and your colleagues at UMinn will miss him very much. I have felt in recent years that journalism - in all of its forms - needs to pay more attention to ethics, fairness and balance and less to "exclusives, " eye catching headlines, celebrities and a very questionable embrace of social media as sources of publishable content. I do recognize the competitive forces and survival instincts that create these shifts in contemporary journalism, and I'm sure they provide much food for thought and discussion in your work as an educator and director of Silha's efforts to insure that ethical conduct remains a basic element of keeping the public informed. 

Very best regards,

John J. Walsh

From: Judith Brin Ingber
Dance Writer and former Murphy Hall Journalism Student

Thanks for letting me know this, I appreciate it--may his memory continue to inspire.

From: Steve Gordon
B.A. 1970

Al (Tims), thank you for sending.

I had read Don's obit in the Strib, and had planned to attend the memorial service. Don was a favorite of mine as well as anyone else who came in contact with him.

From: Birgit Wassmuth, Chair,
Department of Communication at KSU
M.A. 1976, Ph.D. 1973

Such sad news, Al (Tims).

We have fond memories of Don. He was good friends with my parents, too. And he was like a Dad to me after they passed away. In fact, Don stood in for my Dad and gave me away at my wedding in 1996. (You may not have known that.)

From: Linda Vanderwerf
B.A. 1980
Reporter, West Central Tribune, Willmar

Thank you for your wonderful remembrance of Don Gillmor.

I remember my mass comm law classes very fondly. I was a lucky undergrad who Dr. Gillmor allowed to take his grad-level First Amendment class. It was the most fascinating class I remember from my years in college and I'd like to think I held my own in the class. I do remember him giving the grad students a lecture after the mid-term, because the two undergrads did better than some of them. He reminded them that we had four classes, while they had two, and we shouldn't be beating them in the class. Of course, it made us undergrads feel pretty good about ourselves. He was a wonderful guy, and I enjoyed stopping by his office occasionally just to talk.

Apparently his reputation continued long after his retirement. A former student of his now teaches at Minnesota State Mankato. A young reporter at our paper a couple years ago wanted to talk First Amendment and I mentioned enjoying my classes at the U with Don Gillmor. he said, "THE Don Gillmor?" He said his instructor in Mankato had often talked about her classes with Dr. Gillmor and was in awe of him. I think all of us were.

From: Shih-fan Steve Wang, Ph.D. 1983
former Dean, College of Communication,
National Chengchi University, Taipei
former Dean, College of Social Sciences and Management
Fo Guang University, Yilan, Taiwan

Dear Dr. Tims,

I am writing to tender the sincerest condolences for Professor Donald Gillmor's passing away. I am very saddened to get the obituary e-mailed . Dr. Donald Gillmor has been internationally recognized as a distinguished expert on media law and ethics. His longtime devotion to communication teaching and research has undoubtedly set a shining example for communication scholars worldwide. Particularly, his outstanding contributions to communication scholarship in terms of legal and ethical perspectives has become an indelible and inestimable legacy in communication education and industry arenas.

Worth mentioning is that his efforts in helping international students as well as promoting communication education in the developing countries have certainly added more luster to his brilliant life history.

Based on his erudition and concerns with communication education and enterprise, National Chengchi University Graduate School of Journalism, under the auspices of the then Asia Foundation in Taiwan, invited Dr. Gillmor to serve as the only keynote speaker at a two-week symposium with communication law and ethics as the main topics in late spring 1984, which recruited a great number of local communication scholars and practitioners to attend to proceed with theirretraining and reinforcementwith legal fundamentals and theory of social responsibility. As his quick positive response to my letter which was initially intended to explore his willingness amid his tight teaching schedules came to Taipei, all my colleagues were greatly moved. We have been very grateful for his help, enthusiasm, and perfect preparation for the keynote speech and seminar lessons, and specifically for Mrs. Sophie Gillmor's accompanying Professor Gillmor on the long round-trip flights.

The thirty-year separation not only has never alleviated our nostalgia for Dr. and Mrs.Gillmor but also has strengthened our respects for their integrity, amiability, and helpfulness, and exclusively for Professor Gillmor's academic great achievements and contributions.

Finally, our best wishes and regards for Mrs. Gillmor and family members.

From: William Souder
B.A. 1977

Al (Tims),

Thank you for sharing the sad news of Don Gillmor's passing. I took his media law class way back in 1976. Everyone knows what a fine scholar he was; he was also a terrific teacher. He'll always be an SJMC icon.


William Souder

From: Michael H. Anderson
B.A. 1968, M.A. 1974

Director Tims -- Sorry to hear about the passing of Dr. Gillmor. The end of an era, and he will be greatly missed by the thousands of colleagues and students who had the privilege of learning from, or knowing, him.  Few knew more about communication law and ethics than Dr. Gillmor.  As editor of the Daily and a J-School student, I got nothing but good advice whenever I consulted him.

From: James F. (Jim) Moffet

How nice to hear from you, Director Tims. Professor Gillmor joined the faculty after I "absented myself" so I didn't have any direct contact with him. My wife was one of his students at UND, however, and remembers him fondly. Apparently there were many at both schools who did. I had seen his obituary in the Strib but it's been a great pleasure to hear from you in that regard as well.

Thank you.

James F. (Jim) Moffet

From: Reed Carpenter
B.A. 1981

Hi Al (Tims),

Thanks for sending me the news about Don. He had a profound influence on me and I will never forget him, the friendship and guidance he provided me and the many conversations we had over the years I spent at the school. Professor Gillmor bears great responsibility for my best work, my most inspired research and many of my most thrilling moments as a student at the School. Here is one kind gesture that was typical of Don.

In late 1980 or early 1981, when he still sported a beard, Don sent Fred Friendly a paper I wrote on the origins of the Minnesota Gag Law, a story I had enormous fun researching as part of Hazel Dicken-Garcia's Journalism History course during the summer of 1980. To my great surprise I opened my mailbox one day to find a letter from Friendly complimenting me on the paper and, thanks to Don, I was able to meet him in June of 1981 at the Near conference.

As Hazel recalled in her remembrance of Don, I was among those students who were honored to be present among the wonderful array of scholars that Don assembled that spring. Just last night I thought of Don as I watched Charlie Rose interview one of them, Gary Wills, on PBS. What a thrill it was to study with Don.

I will miss him greatly.

From: Julio E. Muñoz
Ph.D. 1983
Executive Director/Director Ejecutivo
Inter American Press Association/ Sociedad Interamericana de Prensa
Miami, FL

I am so sorry to read this sad news. Professor Gillmor was a great friend and a better human being. I keep good memories of him as well as other professors from Murphy Hall that were my mentors: Roy Carter, Bob Lindsay, Ev Dennis, Phil Tichenor.

Best Julio

From: Stephen Silha
Executive Producer,
Big Joy Project / Frisky Divinity Productions
Vashon Island, Washington


I think most of you know that Don was the one who gave my father Otto Silha the idea to create a center that combined study of media ethics with media law at the University of Minnesota nearly 30 years ago.

I have not been able to find much on the Internet about Don, but this 1998 article from the Silha Bulletin gives a hint at his importance in his field, as well as the love with which he is regarded:

The Silha family is so pleased that Don was the founder and created both the letter and the spirit of the Silha Center for the Study of Media Ethics and Law!  With thanks to those of you who knew Don and will carry on his work and spirit, and to those who can support Sophie as she moves forward.

Stephen and the Silha family

From: Arnold Ismach
Former SJMC Faculty Member
Eugene, OR


Don leaves behind him a record that will be cherished. He excelled as a scholar and as a teacher. But he was also a warm human being, and his friendship is something that I will always treasure.