Jerry L. Morrow, 1933-2013: Journalist’s class set standards high

Jerry L. Morrow.
Jerry L. Morrow.

Jerry L. Morrow, who inspired future journalists and communications professionals — even as he held them to high standards — during a 43-year academic career that began at the University of Toledo, died Monday at the University of Tennessee Medical Center, Knoxville. He was 79.

He had pneumonia and struggled recently with other health problems, his wife, Betsy, said.

Mr. Morrow closed his career at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville, where for 21 years he taught in the schools of journalism and electronic media and of advertising and public relations. He was adviser to the student chapter of the Public Relations Society of America and was a two-time “outstanding faculty member” of the college of communications.

He retired after the spring, 2005, semester but was back to teach for the fall term.

“He loved teaching. That was his calling,” his wife said. “He was a tough professor, and some of his students didn't appreciate it. He would work with you as much as you needed to be worked with, but you had to do your part.”

Jackie Calmes, who as a UT student in the 1970s already knew she wanted to be a journalist, felt she could go to Mr. Morrow for advice and guidance.

“He was one of my favorite teachers ever,” said Ms. Calmes, who covers the White House for the New York Times. “He was an all-around inspiring good guy. I just wanted to do good work for him.

“He set such high standards for, just, accuracy and ethics in reporting that I've never forgotten it,” Ms. Calmes said.

Mr. Morrow was a 28-year-old Air Force veteran of the Korean War and a reporter at WSPD-radio when, in 1962, he was named director of university information and an instructor in journalism at the University of Toledo. The title later became “director of university relations,” but the duties were much the same: He was responsible for projecting an image of the university to the public. He also oversaw university publications and graphics and sports, his wife said.

It was a time of change in the country — assassination of a president and other leaders; the civil rights movement; student protests of the Vietnam War. During his tenure in that job, UT ended its status as a municipal institution and became a state university.

“He was very committed to the university and what it stood for and the role it played in the community,” his wife said. “He had very good PR skills and was very good at bringing differing parties together.

“He was a good negotiator and a good peace maker and good at playing all the roles.”

Mark Luetke, whose career has been in public relations, was editor of the student newspaper, the Collegian, for the 1969-70 school year, and Mr. Morrow was the adviser.

“I think I learned more about journalism from Jerry Morrow than all my instructors put together,” Mr. Luetke said. The paper came out on Friday, and by the afternoon, Mr. Morrow returned to Mr. Luetke a fully marked-up paper.

“He was gruff in demeanor — and gruffer on the page,” Mr. Luetke said. “He was very tough and very smart and always on the mark in terms of what we could do better.”

If the era is recalled for political and social ferment, Mr. Luetke’s term as editor included the Kent State University shootings and the first Earth Day and, on campus, a takeover of University Hall by the Black Student Union.

“I think Jerry helped preside over a shift of a student newspaper that was largely social news and events to a news-gathering organization, because we had to, and Jerry was helpful in prodding us in that direction,” Mr. Luetke said. “He was a journalist at heart, and he cared about the journalism.”

Mr. Morrow left his UT public information role in 1973 to teach full time — public relations, news writing, editing.

“He was very interested in future journalists. He felt it was important to be part of developing the next generation of practitioners,” his wife said.

He was born Oct. 5, 1933, to Jennie and Walter Morrow and grew up in East Toledo. After high school, he enlisted in the Air Force and was a navigator on missions during the Korean War.

He attended UT on the GI Bill and received a fellowship to Columbia University, from which he received a master’s degree in journalism. He later received a doctorate from UT.

“He was always interested in the pursuit of the truth, conveying the truth to the public. He was interested in journalism from the get-go,” his wife said.

Surviving are his wife, the former Elizabeth Gross, whom he married Dec. 22, 1973, and sons, David and Michael Morrow.

The family will receive friends from 2-4 p.m. today in Rose Mortuary Mann Heritage Chapel, Knoxville. Memorial services will be at 4 p.m. Sunday in St. Elizabeth's Episcopal Church, Farragut, Tenn., where he was a member.

The family suggests tributes to FISH Food Pantry, Knoxville, or Special Olympics of Greater Knoxville.

Contact Mark Zaborney at: or 419-724-6182.