William Woo, professor and longtime journalist, dead at 69


William Woo

William F. Woo, the Lorry I. Lokey Visiting Professor of Professional Journalism in the Department of Communication and former editor of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, died April 12 of complications from cancer at his home in Palo Alto. He was 69.

"He was the backbone of the graduate program in journalism," communication Professor Theodore Glasser said. "He very much set the tone for the program intellectually and professionally. It's a big loss for all of us in the department and the journalism program."

The interim director of the Stanford Graduate Journalism Program, Woo also was a visiting professor at the Journalism and Media Studies Centre at the University of Hong Kong and had taught as a lecturer at the University of California-Berkeley's Graduate School of Journalism.

In 1990, he received the Lifetime Achievement Award of the Asian American Journalists Association and, in 1991, the Gold Medal Honor Award from the University of Missouri School of Journalism.

Woo came to Stanford in 1996 after working for 34 years at the Post-Dispatch, where he served as a reporter, foreign correspondent, Washington columnist, editorial writer, editorial page editor and editor in chief.

Glasser said he made two good decisions as former director of the journalism program: hiring Woo and then making arrangements that enabled him to stay beyond the visiting professorship's three-year stint. "Bill was so good we found a way to be flexible," Glasser said. "He was inspirational and motivated, not only about what journalism is but what journalism ought to be."

James Fishkin, chair of the Communication Department, described Woo as "the heart and soul" of the journalism program. "He was both wise and nurturing to students and colleagues," he said. "He had fabulous judgment. He just set such a wonderful example for all of us. He embodied values that journalism stands for and passed those on to his students."

Woo was born in Shanghai on Oct. 4, 1936. His father, K.T. Woo, was a newspaper editor for many years in Asia and the first Chinese to edit the China Mail, a paper owned by a Hong Kong company that published the South China Morning Post. William Woo attended public schools in Kansas City and graduated from the University of Kansas with honors in English literature. He joined the Kansas City Times (the old morning edition of the Kansas City Star) in 1957 as a general assignment reporter.

Woo was a member of the board of visitors of the John S. Knight Fellowships at Stanford and had served as a member of the national advisory board of the George Foster Peabody Awards. He served frequently as a juror for the Pulitzer prizes and was himself a Pulitzer finalist for national reporting, foreign correspondence and commentary. In a 1996 letter to communication Professor Emerita Marion Lewenstein, which was written to introduce himself to the department, Woo wrote with characteristic wit:

"In 1986, I was appointed editor of the Post-Dispatch, becoming the fourth editor in the paper's history and the first not to be named Joseph Pulitzer. That is one journalistic curiosity. The other, which might make me a subject for Trivia, is that so far as I can determine I am the only person ever to be a Pulitzer Prize runner up in three categories: national reporting, international reporting and commentary. Hope still springs eternal."

Woo was a 1966-67 Nieman Fellow at Harvard and a director of the American Society of Newspaper Editors and the American Press Institute. From 1995 to 2001, he served on the President's Commission on White House Fellowships.

From June to August 1997, Woo and his wife, Martha Shirk, also a journalist, were Knight International Press Fellows and monitored press freedom in Hong Kong as Chinese rule was restored. Beginning in 1999, Woo made yearly trips to Asia to lecture on journalism and worked extensively with journalists, journalism educators and students in China. He served as a consultant on journalism education and presented workshops and seminars in Croatia, Montenegro, Hong Kong, the Philippines, Thailand and China. He also wrote many articles on journalism for publications such as the Nieman Reports, Columbia Journalism Review and the American Studies Quarterly, which is published by the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.

In addition to his wife, Woo is survived by three sons: Thomas, Bennett and Peter Woo, all of Palo Alto.

Memorial services will be held at 7:30 p.m. on Friday, May 12, in Graham Chapel at Washington University in St. Louis and at 11 a.m. on Friday, May 19, in Stanford's Memorial Church.