- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 17, 2009

WASHINGTON (AP) - Reese Cleghorn, a former newspaper opinion editor credited with transforming the University of Maryland’s journalism school, has died. He was 78.

Cleghorn died Monday at his northwest Washington home after suffering from heart problems, said his wife, Cheree Briggs Cleghorn.

Cleghorn served as dean of the University of Maryland Philip Merrill College of Journalism from 1981 until 2000, turning it into one of the top programs in the country.

During his tenure, university officials said the journalism school increased minority student enrollment, expanded its broadcast facilities and graduate programs and focused on training a smaller but higher quality group of undergraduate students.

Cleghorn also helped bring the monthly magazine, American Journalism Review, to the school in 1987, and worked to have the National Association of Black Journalists relocate its headquarters to the campus. He also oversaw the launch of the student-run Capital News Service in 1990, a wire service with bureaus in Washington and Annapolis.

“He was beyond passionate about truth-finding,” said Cheree Briggs Cleghorn. “If you could see his eyes lit up when he talked about journalism, it was infectious.”

Reese Cleghorn was born April 9, 1930 in Lyerly, Ga. He began his journalism career at age 16, while working for his hometown newspaper in Summerville, Ga. He joined The Associated Press in Atlanta in 1954 after graduating from Emory University and serving in the U.S. Air Force. He continued with The AP in New York while working on a master’s degree at Columbia University.

In 1963, Cleghorn moved to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution as an associate editor in the editorial section. He then moved to the Charlotte Observer, where he served as editorial page editor from 1971 to 1976. Finally, he became associate editor of the editorial page at the Detroit Free Press until joining the University of Maryland.

As a staunch civil rights supporter, Cleghorn often took stances in his commentary pieces that enraged his fellow white Southerners, said Hodding Carter III, a public policy professor at University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, who taught at Maryland’s journalism school and knew Cleghorn since the 1960s. Cleghorn is co-author of “Climbing Jacob’s Ladder,” a book on the Civil Rights Movement and the South.

“He was a standout, in the sense that the average white man did not come close to Reese’s commitment to a just society racially,” said Carter, who served as State Department spokesman for President Jimmy Carter. “He was also about as stubborn a man as I knew _ so when he determined something was right, he would stick to it come hell or high water.”

After retiring, Cleghorn continued to teach commentary and editorial writing courses until December. He remained optimistic about the future of journalism, said his wife.

“He said, ‘I don’t know in what form news will appear,’ but he said, ‘I see daylight and I know it will be alright,’” she said.

He also is survived by two children from a previous marriage, his son, the Rev. John Cleghorn of Charlotte, N.C., his daughter, Nona Gibbs of Atlanta, and four grandchildren.

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