Friday, April 5, 2013

The VanLeuven Code

A giant in the realm of public relations education has passed: James K. VanLeuven, former Chair in Public Relations at the University of Oregon School of Journalism and Communication (UO SOJC), died March 26 while vacationing with his family in Orlando, Florida. He was 72.

When Jim arrived at UO in 2000, he had been hired as the first endowed chair in public relations at the SOJC.

While at UO, he helped develop the successful “Portland Experience” through the Turnbull Center on the UO Portland campus and helped launch a new master’s program in strategic communication. Jim also managed the burgeoning public relations sequence at UO SOJC.

When first introduced, we found that we had initially ventured along similar career paths, and we enjoyed discussing our travels throughout the Northwest as reporters for small regional publications. Jim had worked for the Beaverton (Oregon) and Tigard (Oregon) Times and the Wapato (Washington) Independent, while I had toiled for the Brookings-Harbor (Oregon) Pilot and Canby (Oregon) Herald, as well as the Cashmere (Washington) Record.

Though Jim initially attended Washington State University for three years, he actually graduated from the UO in 1964, and completed his master’s degree in journalism at UO SOJC two years later. The UO SOJC was the last stop on a lengthy and storied career as a teacher, researcher and administrator. He also previously taught at Oregon State University, University of Idaho, Washington State University and was the department head at Colorado State University.

Jim, widely acknowledged as one of the original “pros from Dover” when it came to public relations education, co-authored a leading public relations textbook, “Public Relations: The Profession and The Practice,” published in 2003. He led the groundbreaking Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) Body of Knowledge project, which codified academic literature in the field of public relations.

Well known in both the media and public relations communities in Colorado, Jim received a lifetime achievement award by the Colorado Chapter of PRSA. In 2005, Jim participated in a panel of “Lessons from PR Legends” at the North Pacific District PRSA District Conference in Seattle along with fellow PR heavyweights Jay Rockey, APR, Fellow PRSA, Chairman of Rockey Hill and Knowlton, and Judith Phair, APR, Fellow PRSA, Principal of PhairAdvantage Communications and 2005 President and CEO of PRSA.

For Jim’s retirement, Professor Tom Bivins and I collaborated on a film poster playing off his research on applying behavioral and management concepts to PR practice and the Da Vinci Code, a whodunit starring Tom Hanks as a professor on a quest (right). We presented the framed poster to Jim when he bade farewell to the UO SOJC in 2006.

Even more impressive than his considerable credentials in journalism and public relations was his unrelentingly pleasant demeanor, engaging sense of humor and genuine concern for others. Jim was a friend and a mentor; his smile will remain embedded in my memory.

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