Boston University lost a longtime professor and mentor with the death of Jonathan Klarfeld Monday night. Klarfeld taught journalism in the College of Communication for more than 40 years. He was 80 years old.
Klarfeld’s death was announced to the College of Communication faculty and staff on Tuesday, according to Department of Journalism Administrator Sarah Kess. William McKeen, the chair of the Department of Journalism, posted an announcement of Klarfeld’s death in the Department of Journalism’s Facebook page Wednesday morning.
The late professor, whose career was replete with a variety of journalism and teaching-related jobs, was remembered by former students in the comments section of McKeen’s post, which stated that Klarfeld had been in the hospital since early December.
Honah Jaida Liles, a former student of Klarfeld, told The Daily Free Press that Klarfeld had a gruff persona but genuinely cared about his students.
“If you got to know him, and let him get to know you, he would help you find your way,” Liles said. “He didn’t see a lot of my [freelance] work, but he believed in me the way a parent would.”
Brooke Jackson-Glidden, who took Klarfeld’s opinion writing class, said the professor cared deeply about his students’ success, and pushed them by making them question their own beliefs and preconceptions.
“It was the most amazing class because when I first went in, he challenged a lot of the stuff that was really important to me,” Jackson-Glidden said. “He actively was an instigator in certain ways, but it was from this place of real kindness.”
Jackson-Glidden said Klarfeld taught her to defend her work by becoming her own toughest critic.
“He was an incredible teacher and a really kind, funny person to know and have on your team,” she said.
Klarfeld was a reporter, columnist and editor at The Boston Globe, a media critic for the Boston Herald, a restaurant critic for the Boston Phoenix and the author of multiple novels. As a professor, he taught writing and reporting courses, as well as a culinary journalism course while heading the internship program for journalism students.
Klarfeld had a unique teaching approach, often taking on different roles and simulating hypothetical scenarios to prepare his journalism students for real-world obstacles in the field, said James Mattone, a recent BU graduate.
“He had experience with newspapers for a number of years, so we had to basically pry the story out of him,” Mattone said. “He prepared us for the real world where we’d have to really have effective, clear and concise conversations with the people we have to interview.”
Neil Shea, a former graduate assistant of Klarfeld, said the professor brought an old-fashioned approach to the classroom, a method from which students could learn.
“His class was the arena where we learned to sweat a little in the pursuit of a story,” Shea said. “He brought a unique perspective and experience to the student community because he came from the old-school [methods] and reported on Boston when it was a far different city.”
For many of his students, Klarfeld was more than a professor — he was a friend who had a knack for making lasting connections with students and peers.
“He would give me cash every week and ask me to buy his lottery tickets,” Liles said. “He promised me if he won, I’d get a share of the money. After I graduated, I’d email to find out if we won yet. We never did.”
Karly Finison, another former student, said she admired Klarfeld for his compassion and his willingness to establish meaningful relationships with his students.
“He had such a sense of humor and was so accessible and open to helping students,” Finison said. “I hope more professors can be like him.”
Katherine Hofberg, a former student of Klarfeld, also had him as her mentor and employer. She wrote a heartfelt message to Klarfeld after learning of his passing, highlighting the qualities that made Klarfeld so special to her and other students.
“You left a great impression on me,” Hofberg wrote. “You taught me that the world belongs to the strong. That the power of attitude is amazing. That only suckers worry about saving their souls. That it’s important to be correct. We had just spoken a few weeks ago, and I wish I had told you all of this to your face, but I suspect you already knew because you knew everything.”
Breanne Kovatch, Isabel Owens, Jen Racoosin, Jordan Kimmel, Hannah Schoenbaum and Sarika Ram contributed to the reporting of this article.