Richard Reeves remembered for his ability to listen

Annenberg professor Richard Reeves is remembered by students and faculty by his ability to personally connect with their interests and for his past journalistic endeavors, including his time as chief political correspondent at The New York Times. | (Photo courtesy of Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism)

Richard Reeves, journalist and faculty member at the Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism, died Wednesday at his home in Los Angeles from cardiac arrest, according to an In memoriam piece from Annenberg. He was 83.

“Richard was one of his generation’s most accomplished political journalists,” Annenberg Journalism School director Gordon Stables wrote in a statement to the Daily Trojan. “He was a witness to history … He also loved to share through his teaching. He enjoyed every opportunity to help his students grow as writers and, more importantly, as people. Even as he struggled with his health, he constantly spoke about working with his students.”

Reeves, who worked at Annenberg for 22 years, started at USC as a visiting professor in 1998, according to the Annenberg article. He became a full-time lecturer in 2006 and taught classes such as “Writing Magazine Non-Fiction” and “Feature Writing.” Reeves is remembered by his students for his ability to connect on a personal level with all of those who took his classes. 

“He was always super encouraging and treated me just the same as the people who were older and had more experience,” said Lauren Giella, a senior majoring in journalism who took Reeves’ magazine writing class last year. “He took that time to make sure that every piece that I turned in, every draft after every edit was better than the one before.”

Reeves, who spent decades as a journalist and author, wrote several books following U.S. politics, history and the responsibility of the press, his most recent of which was “Infamy: The Shocking Story of the Japanese-American Internment in World War II” published in 2015. Among his best sellers was “President Kennedy: Profile of Power” published in 1993 about John F. Kennedy’s 1,000 days in office. Reeves’ opinion columns on U.S. politics appeared in more than 100 newspapers between 1979 and 2014, including the Los Angeles Times and Baltimore Sun.

“He was a terrific colleague,” said associate professor of journalism Jonathan Kotler, who met Reeves at Annenberg. “I would always make it a point to sit with him in faculty meetings. He was both wise and funny at the same time. He was basically good company.”

Reeves, born in New York City on Nov. 28, 1936, graduated from Stevens Institute of Technology in New Jersey with a mechanical engineering degree. Realizing his interest lied elsewhere, he entered the journalism field in the 1960s as a print reporter. By 1966, he was the chief political correspondent at The New York Times, and he later served as an editor and columnist at New York Magazine and Esquire.

“He had such an amazing career and life before he came to teaching,” said Emma Peplow, who took two classes with Reeves before graduating in 2018. “And I think it was really easy to forget about that when you were in his class because he really made an effort to get to know every student, and you felt like he was your friend and your peer. And so then, in class, all of a sudden, he would tell this crazy [story] about covering Woodstock or interviewing the president. It would shock you back into this reality that you were being taught by this incredible figure.” 

Among his students, Reeves was not known as someone who sent or responded to many emails, but Peplow remembers one he sent her at the end of her magazine writing class. At the start of the semester, Reeves asked students to write about what they wanted to learn during the course. Peplow wrote that she wanted to develop her first-person writing because she wasn’t confident in her abilities.

“Emma — I loved your piece. If you can’t write in the first person,no one can…Richard” he wrote to her after she turned in her final assignment.

And that stuck with her.

“It’s something small, but it really shows he really tried to take interest in the things his students were interested in,” Peplow said. “You would have meetings with him normally that were supposed to go for 30 minutes, and they would last hours and hours. And he would just ask you everything you were interested in because he genuinely wanted to understand what drove you and what you loved.”

Julia Poe, a soccer beat writer at the Orlando Sentinel who graduated in 2019, said she cherished the times Reeves would delay the start of class to catch up on sports with her.

“Every other person would be staring at me with their eyes glazed over because they did not give a crap, but it was just me and [Reeves] talking about his old days covering the Yankees and my days covering Sam Darnold and the boys,” Poe said. “Beyond him as a professor, he was just the best person to talk to, just the most fun person to talk to.”

The feeling was no different among his fellow faculty members, Kotler said.

“He was thorough, he was a really good writer, he was great at interviews, he developed a really good network of inside sources. I mean, he was everything we try and teach our students to become, and he was a good friend,” Kotler said. “He’s gonna be missed because he was one of the good guys. He was authentic, nothing phony about him.”

Reeves is survived by his son Jeffrey Reeves, his daughters Cynthia Fyfe and Fiona Reeves and his stepsons Conor and Colin O’Neill.

“A lot of professors don’t really have that gift of listening and encouraging and supporting young writers and he knew how to boost a young writer’s confidence in just such a special, unique way,” Poe said. “Part of that came from just the decades of experience that he had in the industry. So when he looked at you and told you that an idea was good or that it was valid, you actually felt that and he just always went out of his way.” 

Shaylee Navarro contributed to this report.