Conrad Fink, legendary Grady professor, dies at 80

Conrad Fink poses with Red & Black employees at the The Red & Black’s 2011 end-of-year banquet. FILE/The Red & Black

Conrad Fink, a professor at the Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication, passed away earlier today. He had been battling prostate cancer for the past 20 years. He was 80.

Fink, a former Vietnam War correspondent and Associated Press vice president, had plans of returning to the classroom this semester after complications with cancer forced him to cancel his classes last August. Fink has taught at Grady College for almost 30 years.

Cecil Bentley, director of external relations at the Grady College, said Fink was still hoping to teach up until the last minute.

Greg Bluestein, a reporter for the Associated Press and former editor of The Red & Black, said he was lucky enough to have Fink take an interest in him as a freshman, before he took any official Fink classes.

"After a rather forgetful A-1 piece, one of my colleagues came up to me and patted me on the shoulder," Bluestein wrote in a letter to Fink, published on Bluestein's Facebook page. "'You've been summoned.' He didn't need to say who wanted to see me. I already knew."

Bluestein told The Red & Black he walked into Fink's office clutching a copy of the student newspaper, but Fink quickly snatched it away and threw it at him.

"He said to me, 'This is the most important thing you'll do in your four years here. Now get out of my office,'" Bluestein said.

The two developed a close relationship filled with both Fink's criticism and advice — a relationship many of Fink's students recall having with him.

Carolyn Crist, former editor-in-chief of The Red & Black, said she took four classes with the legendary professor. She said students developed their relationships with Fink over these classes.

"When you're in the first class with Fink, you're really intimidated because he's this legend," she said. "By the second class, you catch on to his jokes, and by the third you can start giving them back to him. By the fourth, he's a friend and mentor in a way."

Crist said she remembered Fink asked her if she would publish his death in the front page of the student newspaper, during a class. She said the class was "horrified" with the question.

"Well, maybe your eyebrows," she responded to him. At which point, Crist said the class gasped, but Fink laughed "a very distinctive laugh."

These laughs, however, were not the norm when it came to journalism.

Barry Hollander, professor of Journalism at the Grady College, said Fink was serious about the profession. He said Fink did not even believe in voting — which would show he was not an objective journalist.

"Fink was old school in all the good ways," Hollander said. "About what journalists should do and how they should act and the way they should pursue a story. In his classes and in real life, he was no non-sense."

Hollander said Fink provided advice to both students and colleagues — including him.

"Every time I had doubts about journalism, lunch with him, 10 minutes in his office, a chat in the hallway — you always came out realizing how important teaching journalism really was," he said. "I know what I do is important and it pays the bills, but 10 minutes with Fink and I realized this was not just a job. It's a mission in my life to teach journalism and preach its importance to society."

One of the perks of having Fink as a professor was the knowledge his experience brought to students.

Chris Decherd, a Grady graduate working for the Khmer service at Voice of America, said Fink gave him advice about covering war and peace while Decherd worked for a Cambodian English newspaper.

"The [Cambodian] government was threatening to close down the paper and jail the editors," he said. "Fink said to me, 'If you're going to get shut down for something, make sure it is for something you publish.'"

Though Decherd took this advice, there were other Fink-isms he did not.

"One time he said, 'Find the right woman that fits with you and you with her, and don't take that for granted,'" Decherd said. "That's a piece of advice I have not yet taken."

Other Fink alumna noticed Fink's interest in having a balanced life between journalism and family.

"He was really a gentleman," Lauren Patrick, also a former editor-in-chief of The Red & Black, said. "He talked about his family and his wife in class. He taught me to have balance."

She said she once saw Fink and his wife in downtown Athens on a date.

"It was great to see that they were so in love even in their 70s," she said.

University President Michael Adams was also touched by Fink's death and issued a statement on Fink's passing.

"Conrad Fink was a dear personal friend and the consummate colleague and teacher," Adams said. "He fought valiantly in the last year against difficult health circumstances. We will all miss him and send our deepest sympathies to the entire family."

Still, many students were shocked to even hear Fink was diagnosed with cancer.

Joann Anderson, former news editor at The Red & Black and graduate student at the University, said Fink did not "seem like the type to be affected by something like cancer."

"It was a shock last year when we found he was battling cancer," she said. "He had never told any of his classes, as far as I know."

Rachel Bowers, former editor-in-chief of The Red & Black and Fink alumna, said it is not just the Grady College who will be missing a legend.

“I don’t think its just Grady,” she said. “He’s an incredible man. My heart goes out to the family because I’m sure he was as incredible to them as he was to his students.”

Bowers, who had taken Fink’s classes for two years, said the professor pushed students to their full potential. She said he pushed them “as far as they could go.”

“Grady’s never going to have another Fink,” she said.

According to the Grady College website, Fink worked with the AP in all ranks including reporter, editor, foreign correspondent and vice president. He also served as executive vice president of Park Communications, a newspaper and broadcast company.

Some of Fink's awards include the University's Meigs Teaching Award in 1992, the National Journalism Teacher award from Freedom Forum and the Regents Teaching Excellence award in 2004. He was also honored last November when the Grady College made him a Grady Fellow.

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