Susan King speaks about
the area and her colorful past
By Mike Lauterborn
© 2011. All Rights Reserved.
Fairfield, CT – The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s School of Journalism and Mass Communication has named a new dean and she comes aboard with a bit of Fairfield in her past. And that’s not all.
Susan King, former vice president for external affairs for Carnegie Corporation of New York, will officially take the J-School helm January 1, 2012. She took a moment out to give Patch a rundown on her background and highlight some of the unique experiences she has had and people she has encountered.
King was born in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn and lived there until she was four, when her family relocated to Hillsdale, NJ. She essentially grew up there and then headed to four-year college at Marymount in Tarrytown, NY, from which she earned a B.A. in English, in Spring 1969.
Her junior year (Sept. 1967 to June 1968) was actually spent at University College of London University, where she furthered her English studies. “My time in London was transformative and an incredible period to be there,” she said. “During that school year, Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy were both killed. If you were over 20, you were asking, ‘What’s going on in America?’ It influenced my decision to be a journalist, to help me understand the issues better. I wanted to cover America – Who were we? What were we about?”
King recalled one Saturday night dance at the university cafeteria. “There were no decorations and everyone was just hanging out,” she said. “The difference was the music was history-making. The band was Cream and featured a young Eric Clapton, who was in his early 20s. I remember it being fantastic music – only years later did I realize their significance.”
In Summer 1969, King went to grad school at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, but didn’t have enough money to continue. So she returned to Hillsdale that fall and got a job at NBC News. “I was in the White Paper unit, the documentary division,” she said. “That was the year when network TV began doing a couple major primetime news specials. I was essentially a secretary, typing up stuff and processing expenses.”
In Summer 1970, King switched over to CBS News, working as a secondary assistant for anchorman Walter Cronkite. “He was a national icon, voted the most trusted man in America,” she said. “I worked on his personal staff for a year and a half.”
King said she made more out of the job than what was expected, doing a special project about Cronkite’s mail and his relationship with the public and how they perceived and interacted with him. She also created a newsletter that went out to all the news staff.
King really wanted to get a Master’s degree and found out about Fairfield University through the best friend of her future husband, Michael, who had just returned from Vietnam. (Michael and Susan had met at a civil rights event and ended up marrying during Spring Break 1971. They are still married today.)
Susan started at Fairfield University in Fall 1970. “I was struck by the beauty of Fairfield,” she said, which was quite a contrast with the city area from which she was commuting. “I was living on 90th Street between 1st and 2nd Avenues, a fringe area with dog poop on the sidewalks. I would come up on the railroad to Fairfield station. On Saturdays, I took a cab over to the school. In the evenings, I came up by car with a minister. The train was soothing and quiet and I read books.”
She was particularly impressed with the campus. “Bellarmine Hall was exquisite, an Old World anchor, very welcoming,” she said. “And the curriculum was electric. We experimented with many different media. I did still photography, made films, did deep research and studied cultural ideas and how they reflected society. I was interested in journalism and how to be a journalist. I gained a strategic viewpoint on the world, not just skills. The university forced me to think better.”
Ironically, now King is on the main board for Fairfield University, advising the president. She’s also on the communications committee, and had been on admissions, with the objective of moving the university to a higher level and maintaining fiduciary responsibility.