In remembrance of David Carr, a former Boston University professor and New York Times media columnist who died on Feb. 12, members of the BU community gathered at a memorial service Wednesday afternoon.
Carr died after collapsing in The Times newsroom. An autopsy cited complications from lung cancer as the cause of death, The Times reported on Saturday.
About 50 students and faculty members came to the service, which was held in the COM 101 lecture hall in BU’s College of Communication building.
As the first Andrew R. Lack professor, Carr joined the COM faculty in January 2014 and taught his first media criticism course called Press Play in the fall 2014 semester. Carr’s class for the spring 2015 semester was titled Just a Minute, The Daily Free Press reported.
“This was absolutely the best of all possible worlds: to have David Carr teaching and David Carr still fully engaged in what he did,” said Thomas Fiedler, dean of COM, at the memorial. “He always looked to the moment and to the future, not to the past. Or in his words, he wanted us to live in the present future … let’s think about where we’re gonna go and move forward.”
Rev. Robert Hill, dean of Marsh Chapel and chaplain of BU, took to the podium to lead a prayer and provided anecdotes about Carr.
Christopher Daly, a professor of journalism in COM, said the university lost a committed faculty member who was equally able to balance his teaching and writing for his Times’ Media Equation column.
“What you are mainly doing as an editor is bringing along new people, cultivating new writers, encouraging different voices, so he had a lot of that in his background,” he said before the memorial. “He had spent a lot of time helping young people. That’s a great quality in a professor, so we knew it would be a great match.”
Martin Nisenholtz, a digital communication professor in COM, said Carr had a standard of excellence and fairness, which was evident in his personality and his work.
“That is a very important aspect of David’s personality, this notion of fairness,” he said. “If you look at the Brian Williams work [Carr’s final Media Equation column] that he did just two weeks ago … it was an example of fairness.”
Nisenholtz said he and Carr discussed journalism and his former workplace, The Times.
“He and I had many, many conversations over the years about the future of journalism and in particular the future of the New York Times,” he said. “Was our strategy right [or] wrong? The point is that we had these discussions often, and he was unique in his ability to do that.”
Daly said Nisenholtz, former chief digital officer of The Times, and Ta-Nehisi Coates, a senior editor at The Atlantic, will take over as instructors for Carr’s class.
“The students have lost immeasurably someone who had a lot to convey in class, but who also really wanted to go the extra mile for people and help them launch their careers,” Daly said before the memorial. “I’m just trying to help make the transition here. I thought it was very important for students not to feel abandoned. I wanted them to have some sort of continuity and to know that the whole team at COM, we’re very concerned about them.”
Continuing the class will be a “tribute to David,” rather than a replacement for Carr, Fiedler said at the memorial.
At the memorial, students, alumni and faculty members were given the opportunity to speak about their memories and experiences with Carr.
“It’s difficult to even sum up what David has done for any of us personally,” said Prim Chuwiruch, a January graduate of COM and a student in Carr’s first class. “He always had so much faith in all of us that we didn’t have in ourselves. A lot of times, it was him working with each of us personally to try to channel that strength that he saw. I think that was one of the best things he contributed.”
Jasper Craven, a senior in COM, also spoke as a student who is enrolled in his Media Criticism class for the spring 2015 semester. Carr had only been able to teach one lecture for the semester as inclement weather interrupted regularly scheduled classes.
The memorial also included a video tribute commemorating Carr’s journalism and teaching career and an excerpt from Carr’s book “The Night of the Gun” read by Justin Joseph, a visiting lecturer in COM.
Several students said Carr had an impact on the entire journalism community, inside and outside of BU.
Stevie Snow, a sophomore in COM, said she could not believe the news of Carr’s death and looked to the Times for confirmation of the truth.
“Having someone that respectable on campus and someone that inspirational, not to say he was any more or less than any other professor, it was cool to know he had chosen our institution and chose to bring something to us,” she said. “His experience at BU was kind of gypped a little bit, and that’s kind of sad. What he had given us is great, but I’m just very shocked.”
Caitlin Bawn, a graduate student in COM, said she attended the memorial to honor an incredible journalist and man.
“He’s given BU a real sense of the future of journalism. Working outside of COM as well, his relationship with The Times meant that he was so up-to-date and so current. He brought that to a lot of the professors but also the students here. It was like an inspiration of someone actually doing the work we are hoping to.”
Sarah McCullough, a sophomore in COM and the College of Arts and Sciences, said Carr was a major influence and will remain in the minds of students.
“I really believe that he was somebody who was really concerned with where journalism was going in the future, and that really serves to inspire students who may have been steered in the wrong direction by other figures in the field about where our profession is going,” she said. “He believed that even though journalism is changing, it isn’t any less serious or less important.”