Stanford University

News Service


NEWS RELEASE

10/21/02

CONTACT: Elaine Ray, Stanford News Service: (650) 723-7162

COMMENT: Robby Beyers (son), (408) 406-0008

EDITORS: Survivors prefer not to list their hometowns.  

A high-resolution photograph of Beyers is available on the Web at: http://newsphotos.stanford.edu/beyers.jpg  

Bob Beyers, longtime Stanford News Service director, dies at 71

Robert W. Beyers, who earned a national reputation for candid reporting during his 29-year tenure as director of the Stanford University News Service, died of pancreatic cancer at his Palo Alto home on Friday, Oct. 18. He was 71.

Beyers, who directed the News Service from 1961 to 1990, pioneered a style of aggressive, forthright news coverage that helped Stanford gain recognition as one of the nation's top universities.

"Bob Beyers never saw himself as engaged in public relations, always as a journalist," said Stanford President Emeritus Richard W. Lyman. "He lived by the highest standards of that profession: unflagging energy, total integrity, insatiable curiosity and unsparing candor."

Beyers' mantra was "Candor pays. Maybe not in the short term, but always in the long term." This approach earned the trust of reporters such as Philip Taubman, now deputy editorial page editor at the New York Times. "Bob was the best university spokesman in the country during the years he was at Stanford," said Taubman, who was editor of the Stanford Daily in 1969. "He never flinched from telling the truth, even when it was embarrassing to Stanford, and the university was always better for it."

John Dreyfuss, former education writer at the Los Angeles Times, recalled that Beyers once alerted him to a plan by students to take over the campus administration building, an extraordinary act for a university "PR" person. Beyers reasoned that reporters would write stories anyway, so it would be best if they had all the facts. "He always discussed both sides of any situation, even if one side reflected badly on his school," Dreyfuss said. "And he loved that school."

Beyers fervently believed that the work of the faculty and students was what mattered at a university. He had little patience for the kind of news he termed "administrivia," and he shaped a News Service whose primary purpose was to report on academic accomplishments.

Lyman said that though Beyers was perhaps most famous for his unsparing candor, "his energy and entrepreneurialism deserve attention as well. He made the university a port of call for journalists and writers the country over, on any subject from aardvarks to zymurgy. To do this, of course, required him to know the university inside out, which he made it his business to do.

"His services to Stanford were incomparable, and contributed significantly to the institution's rapid rise in prestige and respect, in academia and beyond," Lyman said. "He combined all this with a talent for warm friendship he will be widely as well as deeply missed."

At the request of the Stanford Faculty Senate, Beyers served as its information officer from its creation in 1968 until 1990; he eventually persuaded the senators to open their meetings to local news media.

In 1983, Beyers became the third person to receive the Kenneth M. Cuthbertson Award, Stanford's highest honor for exceptional service to the university. He was cited for his energy, sense of fairness, reliability and the candor that built "a sense of openness and free inquiry."

Taking early retirement from Stanford in 1990, Beyers warned of growing internal pressure at the university against straight news coverage an action that landed him on the front page of the Wall Street Journal.

Longtime friend Spyros Andreopoulos, director emeritus of the Stanford Medical Center News Bureau, said of Beyers: "He would sometimes drive some administrators and trustees nuts when he reflected the university as a human organization capable of both great accomplishments and mistakes, but he taught us why an absolute dedication to the integrity of the information serves the institution best."

Gordon Earle, who recently joined Stanford as vice president for public affairs, noted: "Although I have been at Stanford for only a short time, I was extremely fortunate to have spent an evening with Bob at my home and sought his advice on many issues. Despite being very ill, Bob took the time to share his thoughts with me in his typically honest and straightforward style. I value tremendously the short time we spent together and will think of him often in the future. Stanford is a better place because of the many contributions Bob made to the university."

A lifetime of news

Beyers was born Oct. 10, 1931, in New York City. He earned a bachelor's degree from Cornell, where he was editor-in-chief of the Cornell Daily Sun. After college, he was a reporter with the Marshall (Texas) News Messenger, the public relations director for the U.S. National Student Association and the editor of the Reporter newspaper in Saline, Mich., before joining the University of Michigan News Service.

In 1961, he accompanied his mentor, Lyle M. Nelson, from Michigan to Stanford. With several colleagues, they created the Stanford Observer, an external monthly newspaper for alumni with a circulation of 160,000, and Campus Report (now Stanford Report), an internal weekly newspaper. Both publications became models for direct communication at dozens of other colleges. Under Beyers' direction, the News Service also created publications to recruit ethnic minority students to enroll at Stanford.

Andy Doty, former director of university relations for Stanford and a colleague and friend for 40 years, said that Beyers "had more creative ideas and insights in one day than the average person has in a month. He was a communicator in every sense of the word, reaching out in a thousand ways to inform and enlighten. He seems to have been born to shed light and to help others."

Mississippi Freedom Summer

Although he covered Stanford for decades, Beyers always said that his peak experience as a journalist came as a volunteer during the 1964 Mississippi Freedom Summer, when he coordinated media and police relations for the Council of Federated Organizations.

"Bob was a crucial contributor to the Mississippi struggle because of his ability to draw media coverage," said Stanford Professor Clayborne Carson, a historian of the civil rights movement and editor of the papers of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. "Later, he used his position as director of the Stanford News Service to illuminate racial issues at Stanford."

Beyers attributed his interest in civil rights to his Cornell classmate James Lowell Gibbs Jr., who is now the Martin Luther King Jr. Centennial Professor Emeritus at Stanford. Gibbs said of his friend of 50 years: "Unlike many who work for racial justice only in the political and public realm, Bob also expressed his belief in racial equality personally and privately, via true, loyal, longtime cross-racial friendship."  

Developed education publications

In addition to his work at Stanford, from 1974 until his death Beyers was a trustee of Editorial Projects in Education, creators of the Chronicle of Higher Education, Education Week newspaper and Teacher magazine. He was board chairman from 1986 to 1997.

Beyers also served as a volunteer associate editor for Pacific News Service in Berkeley, an independent news agency giving voice to those at the edges of society, from 1990 to 1995.

He was a public information consultant to Harvard, Oxford and many other academic institutions, several major foundations, the U.S. Office of Education, and the Secretary of Health, Education and Welfare.

After his brother, Arthur, died of AIDS in 1986, Bob helped his wife produce 12 independent documentary videos on AIDS, homeless teenagers, crack cocaine, and other social and medical topics.

Beyers is survived by his wife, Charlotte; three children from his prior marriage to Alice Mencher: William, Robby, and Amy; four stepchildren: Pam Kivelson, Nancy Stewart, Alan Davis and Cynthia Kanner; and 13 grandchildren.

A service celebrating Beyers' life will be held in Stanford's Memorial Church on Monday, Jan. 6, 2003, at 4 p.m. A reception at the Faculty Club will follow.

The family prefers contributions to the Robert and Charlotte Beyers Fund of the Stanford Historical Society, c/o Gift Processing, Office of Development, 326 Galvez St., Stanford, CA 94305-6105. The fund supports modern historical research and writing on Stanford. The family invites reminiscences, which may be sent to BeyersMemorial@aol.com.

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By Eileen Walsh

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