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Paul Jess, professor emeritus of journalism, dies

Friday, October 23, 2015

LAWRENCE – Paul Jess, professor emeritus of journalism, died Oct. 22 at the age of 83.

Jess joined the William Allen White School of Journalism & Mass Communications faculty in 1976 and taught editing, reporting and media law. He also served as associate dean, head of the school’s news-editorial sequence and general manager of the University Daily Kansan. He retired in May 1996.

Jess was a corporal in the U.S. Army Infantry in the Korean War and also worked on Pacific Stars and Stripes. He earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the University of Iowa and a doctorate from the University of Minnesota.

Jess began his newspaper career in Iowa and worked as a reporter, editor and makeup editor for the Des Moines Register, the Worthington (Minnesota) Daily Globe and Philadelphia Inquirer. Before coming to KU, he taught at South Dakota State University and University of Michigan.

Professor Emeritus Rick Musser, who started teaching at the journalism school the same year as Jess, remembered his colleague and friend as the consummate journalist.

“They've stopped making journalists and teachers like Paul Jess, and we are poorer for his loss,” Musser said. “Paul actually knew how to run a Linotype. It's how he started in the business. He loved being a copy editor. He always looked forward to his summers in Philadelphia, where he rode the train to work at the copy desk at the Inquirer. He was a green eyeshade kind of guy. He did not suffer fools lightly, but he was a caring and attentive mentor. There was no better colleague and no better friend to sit beside at the bar."

Gerald Seib, Washington bureau chief for the Wall Street Journal, said Jess was a friend and a mentor.  

“Paul Jess was everything you would want in a professor: Smart, funny, incisive, approachable. I remember that he would even, on occasion, stop by Dirty Herbie's tavern late on a Friday afternoon to join the Kansan staff in toasting the end of another long week,” Seib said.

Another former student, retired Army Maj. Gen. Gary Patton, said Jess stood out as the model of professorship during Patton’s two years of graduate studies at the J-School.  

“He treated his students like his own sons and daughters — guiding, teaching and drilling us firmly but fairly in the disciplined approach and fundamentals of editing. These proved to be essential lessons that I have applied daily in the military and in business over the past 25 years,” Patton said.

Professor Susanne Shaw, who worked with Jess during his time in the journalism school, said Jess was dedicated to the school and its students.

“He would do anything that needed to be done in the school, and he was a wonderful mentor to students,” Shaw said.

Shaw said that Jess worked summers on the copy desk at the Philadelphia Inquirer, and that connection helped students get jobs there.

KU Chancellor Bernadette Gray-Little said, “Paul Jess was an outstanding journalist and educator who cared deeply for his craft, his students and the University of Kansas. On behalf of the entire KU community, I offer my sincere condolences to Professor Jess’ family, friends and colleagues. My thoughts are with them during this difficult time.”

Dean Ann Brill said alumni often asked about Jess. 

"He helped them become better journalists, and as their careers grew, they appreciated him even more,” Brill said.

Jill Jess Phythyon, a graduate of the journalism school, said her father demanded excellence from his students but also encouraged laughter in the classroom and newsroom. While at KU, he taught at least five students who later wrote or edited Pulitzer Prize-winning stories and series, she said.

Phythyon said her father loved his family, language, cocker spaniels, big-band music and good beer.

Other survivors include his wife, Jan, and two sons, Jim and David. 

Jess, who was a lifelong supporter of higher education and research, donated his body to the University of Kansas Medical Center.

The family suggests donations in his name to Douglas County Hospice, 200 Maine St., Suite C, Lawrence, KS 66044; Lawrence Presbyterian Manor, LawrencePresbyterianManor.org; or the John Bremner Editing Center at KU, reference Fund #39750.