John McWethy '69 Remembered as a "Hero" and "Terrific Journalist" by DePauw Friends
February 7, 2008
February 7, 2008, Greencastle, Ind. - "In Mary Compton's media class at DePauw University, they had a nickname for John McWethy," begins a story published in today's Denver Post. "'Everybody called him 'Hero,'' Compton said Wednesday night of the retired ABC News reporter who died in an accident at Keystone Ski Resort earlier in the day. Compton, who graduated last May, is one of several DePauw alumni who pay tribute to McWethy, 60, who graduated from the University in 1969.
The newspaper story tells of how, during a visiting professorship in 2004, Jack McWethy spent late nights working with students at both The DePauw and campus television station D3TV. "He was so generous with his time," recalls Compton, who was a sophomore at the time. Joey Bunch writes that "when Compton graduated last summer, McWethy wrote her a letter of recommendation and pointed her to people she should call at ABC News. She landed an entry level position in the newsroom. She e-mailed McWethy the good news. He replied, 'I'm rushing out the door, but you've made my day.'"
The article also tells of another 2007 graduate, "Mike Morris, a young county government and agriculture reporter for the Dubois County Herald in Jasper, Ind., [who] said he owed his job to McWethy ... As if McWethy's hero status needed brandishing, there's that time in 2004 when Ambassador L. Paul Bremer, the presidential envoy to Iraq, spoke on campus and spurned questions from the professional media," reports Bunch. "Jack went backstage and got to Bremer," Ken Owen '82, executive director of media relations at DePauw and former television journalist, tells the Post. "He told him, 'You really owe it to these students to go answer their questions.'" The paper adds, "Morris was on the copy desk that night, and he recalled with a tone of pride how his mentor marched the ambassador and his entourage of Secret Service into the student paper's newsroom."
Bob Steele, the Nelson Poynter Scholar for Journalism Values at the Poynter Institute, was in Jack McWethy's graduating class. They worked together at DePauw and remained friends, sometimes presenting programs on media issues together when back on campus. Steele recalls McWethy as being "smart, courageous, unintimidated by power and committed to holding the powerful accountable." He adds, "Forty years ago at DePauw, Jack exhibited those same qualities as a student journalist and leader on campus. He had more integrity than anyone I knew. He had strong beliefs and he honored them through his values and his actions. He challenged the University's top officials, both with his solid journalism and his powerful intellect. Jack McWethy was destined to be a terrific journalist. He lived up to that promise." (at right: Lee Hamilton '52 with McWethy, October 26, 2006)
Access the complete text, headlined "Students mourn journalism 'Hero,'" at the Post's Web site.
McWethy had moved to Boulder, Colorado last fall after his retirement from ABC. In another story, his wife, Laurie Duncan '71, says, ""He loved it here. I think he loved the beauty of its nature, the open spaces, the wildlife, everything." The full article can be found here.
On May 18, 2003, John McWethy presented the commencement address at DePauw and received the McNaughton Medal for Public Service. [Download Audio: "McWethy's Address" 165KB] "When I was here at DePauw, I protested against the war in Vietnam," he told the crowd of graduates, parents, faculty and friends assembled on East College lawn that afternoon. "Something seemed so wrong to me as a student. Without knowing it at the time, it turned out our government was lying to us. How could I have known that I would spend most of my working life covering this country's wars and trying to understand what makes people go to war, asking questions of our government every time we headed towards conflict."
McWethy told the Class of 2003, [Download Audio: "Why" 259KB] "The word 'why' is, in my view, the most powerful word in the English language. It is the driving force of my profession, and it's also the driving force and at the heart of your professors, creative sciences, honest politicians, and of good parents. Don't stop asking the word 'why' just because you're leaving DePauw. All institutions, all endeavors, all relationships are improved by a good scrubbing using the word 'why.' In democracy it is the question we must all constantly be asking our government and our leaders. It is not unpatriotic to question the government; it is unpatriotic not to."
At the 2002 commencement ceremony, McWethy received an honorary doctoral degree. On that occasion, he stated, [Download Video: "Where It Began" 1500KB] "I never would have dreamed that writing my last story for The DePauw would have ended up helping me hone skills that would take me around the world from this campus in Greencastle to all the countries I've had the privilege of stepping onto, giving me a front row seat to three decades of history, 7 presidents, covering the collapse of the Soviet Union, the war in the Persian Gulf, and take me to some of the nastiest countries on the planet -- Mogadishu and Somalia, Port-au-Prince, Haiti, the Tora Bora region of Afghanistan -- all to help learn about what the conflict is all about."
McWethy's most recent return visit to Greencastle was on October 8, 2007, when he discussed his Nightline report on post-traumatic stress disorder in a session at the Pulliam Center for Contemporary Media.Back