Conrad Fink, who taught a generation of journalists at the University of Georgia after a career as a foreign correspondent and executive for The Associated Press, died Saturday in Athens, Ga., at age 80.
Fink had been battling prostate cancer that had returned two decades after successful surgery, and he was admitted to a local hospital for treatment last week, said E. Culpepper Clark, the dean of the university’s Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication.
“He was fighting it manfully, but it got him,” Clark said.
Fink had taught as a journalism professor since 1983 at UGA, where students either feared or revered him for his gruff persona and merciless editing of their class assignments and published news stories.
His approach to teaching resembled that of a newsroom editor more than an academic, drawing on Fink’s 20 years of experience with the AP. In a career that spanned 1957 to 1977, he had served as a night editor in Chicago, a foreign correspondent and as an AP vice president in New York. News assignments overseas took him to India and Vietnam, the former Soviet Union and the Middle East.
“He would say, ‘Each year thousands of students come to the University of Georgia, and I try to save a few,’” said Les Simpson, publisher of the Amarillo Globe-News in Texas and a student of Fink’s in the 1980s. “If somebody ever told you Fink wanted to see you, first of all it would scare you. But second of all you would know you had caught his eye.”
Fink’s influence reached beyond his classes at UGA. He also wrote 11 journalism textbooks on subjects ranging from editorials and sports writing to newspaper management.
“He was inimitable and is irreplaceable,” Clark said in an e-mail sent to faculty and staff Saturday. “The loss is grievous. If you had Conrad as a friend, and all of us did, you didn’t need but one.”
UGA President Michael Adams called Fink “a dear personal friend and the consummate colleague and teacher.”
“He fought valiantly in the last year against difficult health circumstances,” Adams said in a statement.
Kathleen Carroll, an executive editor and a senior vice president for the AP, praised Fink in a statement Saturday.
“Conrad Fink lived a reporter’s life,” she said. “He traveled far from home to explore and tell stories for the AP, then brought decades of experience home to the classroom. Among his many contributions to journalism, the greatest may have been using his broad experience to launch several generations of new journalists.”
A native of Michigan, Fink served in the 1950s as a first lieutenant in the Marines before landing his first newspaper job at the Daily Pantagraph in Bloomington, Ill. He also served as executive director of the AP-Dow Jones Economic Report and as a visiting lecturer at the Poynter Institute in St. Petersburg, Fla.
Fink’s family planned to hold his funeral in New York state, where he had a summer home, Clark said.
UGA honored Fink in November by inducting him into the Grady Fellowship, a group of distinguished alumni and media professionals. Simpson traveled from Texas to attend with a gift for the professor – personal letters from more than 30 former students.
“I think sometimes even he was surprised at the kind of impact he had,” Simpson said. “I think he was just doing his job and wanted to do it right.”