I was saddened recently to hear of the recent death of Calder M. Pickett, 92, a professor emeritus of journalism at the University of Kansas at Lawrence. I was pleased to have him as a teacher and, more important, as a friend.
Calder Pickett believed that a newspaper should have a strong editorial page—that it was a community responsibility. He also taught that an editorial page should be a “continuing university” for the reader.
Calder Pickett was the quintessential historian. He taught the history of journalism course; he told how the American newspaper played a key role in the development of the United States. He was an innovative instructor who used slides and tape recordings in the classroom long before the term “multimedia” was coined.
Calder Pickett was a “printer’s devil” as a youth in Preston, Idaho. He received his bachelor’s degree from Utah State University, Logan, and his master’s degree from the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University, Evanston, Ill. He received his doctorate from the University of Minnesota, Minneapolis. He taught at KU for 37 years but was not merely an academic journalist. He would work during summers as a copy editor for major daily newspapers including The Kansas City Star, The Denver Post and The Topeka Capital-Journal.
Calder Pickett was a “New Deal” Democrat; many of his students, like myself, were from Kansas middle-class homes where parents were mostly moderate Republicans. But politics never got in the way of an excellent nonthreatening classroom experience. He received various awards for being an outstanding professor.
In 1962, he was the acting dean of the William Allen White School of Journalism when it received top honors from the William Randolph Hearst Foundation. President John F. Kennedy presented the award in Washington, D.C.
During the years at KU he kept in touch with journalism alumni at Christmastime with his newsletter that told where graduates were and what they were doing.
He was active in the Lawrence community serving on the library board and as a volunteer for the Audio Reader service for the blind. He was also active in his church, the Lawrence Unitarian Fellowship.
My favorite Calder Pickett story concerned him being contacted by an FBI agent in the 1950s who was doing a background check on one of his former students who was black and being considered for a sensitive federal job.
“What kind of student was he?” the FBI agent asked. “Was he one of those agitator types who was always concerned about civil rights?”
“No, I wouldn’t say that about him,” Pickett said. “But I am one of those kind of people.” This story illustrates his wry sense of humor.
I was very pleased to have known Calder Pickett, a person who always inspired students to be sensitive to the needs of readers.
His family has suggested that memorial contributions be made either to the Audio Reader or the KU School of Journalism. That would be most appropriate.
Murrel Bland is the former editor of The Wyandotte West and The Piper Press.