Journalism professor remembered at service

A memorial service for former St. John’s Director of Journalism Roger V. Wetherington was held at the New York Society for Ethical Culture in Manhattan Aug 16.

Members of his family and the St. John’s community were on hand to pay their last respects and share memories of him.

Wetherington, 67, died July 24 after suffering a seizure.

He was a St. John’s professor for nearly 20 years and was appointed as director of the journalism program in 2001. Wetherington spent the 2004-05 school year teaching in Kazakhstan after receiving a Fullbright scholarship award. He had taken a leave of absence during the 2008-09 school year.

“Each of us has our own special understanding of who he was,” said Andra Miller, Wetherington’s widow during the service. “We recognize the legacy of his work, his passions and his relationships.”

Ora Katherine Smith, a cousin of the professor, noted his love of classical music, horse racing and his sense of humor as things that she would remember most.

“His humor was so captivating,” she said. “It could make me laugh for hours.”

Wetherington worked as a part-time editor at The New York Times. He started his journalism career in the early 70s as a copy boy at the Daily News.

After working as a copy boy, Wetherington became a health and hospital beat reporter and then a regional editor at the Daily News.

He met his wife while he was working as a beat reporter. Wetherington, Miller and their son, Brady, then moved to California, where he received his Ph.D. from the University of Southern California and taught at California State University at Long Beach.

Wetherington returned to New York and got a job teaching at St. John’s.

“There’s no question that the love of Roger’s life was teaching,” Miller said.

“He poured himself into it and it nourished him.”

Many of Wetherington’s colleagues said he will be missed.

“I knew him as a relentlessly dedicated teacher of journalism,” said Dr. Kathleen Voute MacDonald, Dean of the College of Professional Studies. “He was relentless in motivating students to write the best they could.”

Prof. Frank Brady, chairman of communications, journalism and media studies, said he was “the prototypical absent-minded professor.”

“He was extremely gentle with the students and they had a great affection for him,” Brady said. “He was always teaching all the time.”

Martin Mbugua, one of Wetherington’s students in the early 90s, said the professor “was totally passionate about the news business.”

“He often told fascinating stories from his amazing professional experiences,” Mbugua said. “I credit him for my career on the Daily News. His lessons helped me succeed.”
Another one of Wetherington’s former students, Jim Baumback, sports writer for Newsday and an adjunct professor at St. John’s, said Wetherington was a mentor to him.

“He was always the same Roger, down to the tie around the neck that was never tied,” he said. “He always spoke so optimistically about the journalism department at St. John’s…It’s ironic-everything had changed except for him.”