Stanford News


CONTACT: Eileen Walsh, News Service (650) 725-1949

Memorial service scheduled September 29 for Professor Lyle M. Nelson

Lyle Nelson's friends and colleagues undoubtedly will remember him for creating and nurturing the professional journalism fellowship program at Stanford, for raising prodigious amounts of money for the communication department, and for providing years of sound press advice to university officials.

But they also will recall the emeritus professor of communication for his irreverent wit, his penchant for wearing Hawaiian shirts and outrageous ties, his years-long correspondence with Groucho Marx, and his T-shirt that read “Age and treachery will always overcome youth and skill.”

Nelson, 79, died of heart failure at his home on Sept. 5. A memorial service will be held in Memorial Church on Monday, Sept. 29, at 3 p.m.

He founded the program now known as the John S. Knight Fellowships and served as its director from 1969 to 1985.

“Hundreds of journalists from around the world are indebted to Lyle Nelson,” said James V. Risser, current director of the program, which provides a one-year, mid-career sabbatical for professional print and broadcast journalists.

“He nurtured the idea of professional journalism fellowships at Stanford beginning in the late 1960s, secured the funding that kept them going, and then played the key role in obtaining a Knight Foundation grant in 1982 that permanently endowed the program.”

Nelson came to Stanford in 1961 as director of university relations, and in 1968 became executive head of the department of communication. He served as the department's chairman from 1972 to 1979, and was named the Thomas M. Storke Distinguished Professor of Communication in 1973.

As university relations director, Nelson strongly supported candid news reporting on campus. During the Vietnam protests, for instance, he told Stanford alumni: “Our basic underlying philosophy is that we present the university the way it is. The minute you try to gloss it over and present it in a distorted light, you're in for long-run trouble.”

In the early 1970s, Nelson helped raise funds to back the Stanford Daily's protest of a Palo Alto police raid on its offices, a case the Daily lost in the U.S. Supreme Court.

He also was a strong proponent of journalistic ethics. In a 1975 speech that remains relevant today, he said that journalists must develop self-imposed standards of practice. “Journalism's practitioners,” he said, “must be imbued with the importance of social responsibility, must be deeply rooted not just in the shallow concepts of democracy advanced daily by political, economic and social special interests, but in the fundamental tenets set forth by men like Milton, Mill and Jefferson.”

In 1984, Nelson won the Kenneth M. Cuthbertson Award, Stanford's highest honor for exceptional service to the university, “for his extraordinary effectiveness in creating Stanford's government relations programs and the quiet good judgment he purveys as counselor and father-confessor to presidents, colleagues and students.”

Oregon native

Nelson was born in 1918, in Yamhill, Ore., and graduated in 1941 from the University of Oregon, where he served as editor of the student newspaper and met his wife, Corrine. He worked a year as editor of alumni publications at Oregon, then as a reporter for the Oregon Journal in Portland. He returned to the university as acting director of the news service.

During World War II, he was technical editor of the Army Ordnance Department in Washington, then an information specialist at the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation in the capital.

Nelson returned to Eugene and served for six years as assistant to the president of the university and associate professor of journalism, leaving that post in 1953 to become the first employee of the National Educational Television and Radio Center, in Ann Arbor, Mich., the predecessor of the Public Broadcasting Service.

Later, he was professor of communication and assistant to the president of San Francisco State, then returned to Ann Arbor to serve as vice president of university relations at the University of Michigan before coming to Stanford.

Working from his roots in public television, he became an authority on the uses of television for educational purposes. In 1975, he collaborated with fellow Stanford communication Professor Wilbur Schramm on the first independent evaluation of public television financing. He and Schramm also co-authored Bold Experiment: The Story of Educational Television in American Samoa. Nelson also was active in founding KQED in San Francisco and served on its board.

Journalism fellowships

In 1969, Nelson obtained a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities to continue a Professional Journalism Fellowship that had been started several years earlier at Stanford on a Ford Foundation seed grant. He directed the fellowship program until 1985.

Program veterans recall that Lyle and Corrine Nelson acted as godparents to the journalism fellows, particularly the international fellows, even after he retired. His dry, self-effacing sense of humor and her warmth and hospitality were usually among their most pleasant memories.

Marion Lewenstein, professor emerita of communication, said that Nelson had an “enormous sense of integrity and loyalty, and a desire to go out of his way to help other people without being ostentatious about it.”

Former fellows repaid the Nelsons' kindnesses in 1993 by establishing the Lyle and Corrine Nelson International Journalism Fellowship. At a reunion of the program's alumni last June, the John S. Knight Foundation announced a $250,000 gift to the fellowship.

Many honors

Nelson was a three-time chairman of the National Board of Foreign Scholarships, which oversees the Fulbright program, and he served as staff director for the 1965 White House Conference on Education.

In the 1970s, he was a national board member of the Nature Conservancy. A member of the Bohemian Club, he served until recently as a trustee of the Hewlett Foundation and as the only American board member of the Reuter Foundation, which helps support journalists from developing nations.

In 1981, he received honorary degrees from Linfield College in McMinnville, Ore., and UniversidĚd Autonoma de Guadalajara.

In addition to his wife, he is survived by his daughters, Dr. J. Lee Nelson of Seattle and Gayle Green of Portland; his sister, Leila Johnston of Norman, Okla.; and sons-in-law Joe Ryan of Seattle and Peter Green of Portland.

The family prefers donations to the Lyle and Corrine Nelson International Journalism Fellowship in the Knight Journalism Fellowships program at Stanford, in care of the Development Office, 301 Encina Hall, Stanford, CA 94305-6076.