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In memoriam: Dr. Ron Farrar

Posted May 20, 2020: Updated May 21, 2020

Ron Farrar, faculty member, long-time associate dean for graduate studies and interim dean of the College of Journalism and Mass Communications died on May 18.  

Ron Farrar set a high bar for students, faculty members and administrators. I was honored to talk with him several times since arriving here three years ago. His dedication to the SJMC, its students and the Media and Civil Rights History Symposium ran incredibly deep,” says Tom Reichert, dean of the College of Information and Communications. “Dr. Farrar left an lasting mark on our program that we benefit from today and will benefit from for many years to come.”

Below, we’ve collected tributes and memories from former colleagues and alumni.


Erik Collins
I first met Ron when he joined the faculty in 1986.  He and I taught courses in media law at both the undergraduate and graduate levels, and I followed him as director of the graduate program and then interim dean. 

Ron was an inspirational teacher, a noted scholar in journalism history and media law, and an innovative administrator who helped jumpstart the J-School’s move into the 21st Century with the acquisition of Newsplex.  Legions of former students will testify that Ron’s guidance and support were the catalytic agents that propelled them to successful careers in the professional and academic worlds. 

I served as the master of ceremonies the night of the gala black-tie dinner honoring Ron’s retirement in 2001. In my introduction I noted that “the movies of director Frank Capra — in his best, most uplifting work — gave us such memorable American characters as Longfellow Deeds in "Mr. Deeds Goes to Town" and George Bailey in "It’s a Wonderful Life." These guys weren't candidates for sainthood — they had flaws like the rest of us. But they stood up for what they believed, they rose to the occasion when required, they loved their families and were true to their friends. If Capra had wanted to create the quintessential college professor, he could have done no better than to model that character on Ron Farrar.” 

The room that night was filled with excellent teachers, accomplished scholars, journalists and advertising/public relations professionals who set the standards for our field.  But no one was more representative of the best of all of these attributes than Ron Farrar.  And to top it off, he was just a great guy. 

Ron and I continued our deep friendship until the day he died.  I shall miss him greatly.

Van Kornegay
Ron Farrar loved the SJMC and played a big role in shepherding the school through a period of change and growth. Ron was the consummate professor. He was a thoughtful and inquisitive individual who remained interested in the role of media in public life and in the life of the mind.

I sat in on his J101 class and was always impressed with his wide ranging knowledge of media history and law. He was a traditionalist in many respects, and his classes had a certain level of dignified decorum —  he almost always wore a coat and tie — but aided by his folksy, Arkansas accent, he carried himself with a warm and approachable grace. 

Andrea Tanner
Ron Farrar was one of my professors when I was in graduate school and then became a colleague when I joined the SJMC faculty.  After he retired, we kept in touch and every so often he would send me a kind note or email — congratulating me on an accomplishment or just reaching out to say hello and to let me know that he was thinking of me.

In Fall 2019, his granddaughter, Grace Farrar, was a student in my Honors Journalism 101 class.  I know Dr. Farrar was incredibly proud that Grace was admitted to the South Carolina Honors College and would be majoring in journalism (now public relations).  It is clear that Grace inherited her grandfather’s quiet kindness, intelligence and strong writing skills.

I always try to learn from the people I work with and work for and I’m thankful that I had Ron Farrar as a mentor when I was a young academic on the tenure-track.   From him, I learned the importance of kindness, thoughtfulness and laughter in the workplace and to not take yourself too seriously.  And, from his emails, notes and well wishes through the years, I learned the value of staying in touch with the friends and colleagues you care about and who care about you.  Dr. Farrar, you will be missed! 

Ernest L. Wiggins
Ron was a journalism historian who understood keenly how past events resonated through current practice. He guided the college with a steady hand through the rocky time of university realignment and the growth of the research program. He had a clear and incisive mind, a generosity of spirit and an enduring commitment to equality and social justice.

I benefited personally from his kindness and encouragement as a young faculty member and many years after; he was always interested in how I was doing, what I was thinking about and working on, how my classes were going, encouraging me to "keep writing."

I was a member of a team of journalism faculty and practitioners that Ron led to the University of Bucharest a few years after I joined the faculty — one of the richest experiences I have had during my time at the SJMC. The academic environment too often can be alienating, awash in self-seeking and self-regard, but I never failed to feel genuinely cared about, mentored, when I was with him. 

Randy Covington
Ron Farrar was a friend and mentor.  He was smart, funny and a very caring person.  I have known Ron for more than 50 years; he was one of my own professors many years ago at Indiana University.

While Ron’s influence on journalism education and his professional accomplishments grew, he remained the same kind, humble and caring person. As educators, we take pride in the effect we have on others and Ron Farrar had a huge impact on me and my career. I so regret we had to cancel a lunch a few weeks ago because the coronavirus had shut down Columbia.

I always enjoyed Ron’s whimsical sense of humor, his appreciation for the South and his insights into journalism.  As someone who studied and wrote about the history of journalism, Ron had a broad and insightful perspective on the role of media in society, something that arguably is more relevant today than it ever has been.  Ron Farrar indeed will be missed.

Rick Stephens
In 1986,  I chaired the search committee that recommended we hire him. It was one of the best decisions the college ever made. I say that because perhaps no one made more of an impact in as short a period on our college than Ron.

He taught undergraduate and graduate courses in history and law, authored a biography of the founder of the Mizzou J-school, Walter Williams, a popular intro to mass comm textbook, several editions of a law book with colleagues Erik Collins, Carmen Maye and Roy Moore, and other books, too.

In 2011, he endowed the Ronald T. and Gayla D. Farrar Award for Media in Civil Rights History at USC. He would come to the biennial symposium that his generosity inspired to announce the winners of excellence in civil rights reporting. Among the luminaries this wonderful symposium attracts is Isabel Wilkinson, author of The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America's Great Migration.

Ron championed non-traditional and international students in his role as an administrator and member of the graduate faculty. Countless students who he advised or helped will tell you Ron's support and guidance were keys to their success. Countless faculty and staff will tell you they got a raise, promotion, tenure or award because of Ron's support. He was generous with his praise, never missed attending special occasions in the lives of his colleagues or students.

Bradley and Janet hosted an 80th birthday party for Ron in 2015 —many of us attended and were impressed with how informed the children were about Ron's career and many accomplishments. Sally and I would see Ron and Bradley at UofSC basketball games. Ron taught at the University of Kentucky and on Kentucky Derby day some of us Kentuckians (Nancy Clark, myself and others) would get together that first weekend in May for a party. You are missed, my friend and colleague.

Sandra Hughes
My heart is so heavy since receiving the sad news of the passing of my former boss and friend, Dr. Ronald T. Farrar. I had the great pleasure of working with Ron for several years when he was graduate director at the UofSC School of Journalism and Mass Communications and later as interim dean.

Ron loved teaching and truly cared about the students — undergraduate and graduate students. His compassion for them and attention to their academic successes were always evident. The students loved him as well; many of them — near and far — still kept in touch with him.

His accomplishments in writing and research were many, yet he was always so humbled when anyone mentioned these and congratulated him.

Ron loved his family and was so proud of his children and grandchildren (and most recently his first great-granddaughter), and we had many conversations through the years catching up on family. He and his wife, Gayla, along with their family became wonderful friends to my family and even after his retirement, we remained good friends (over 30 years now). While I will truly miss Ron and our conversations, I know that he is happy being reunited with Gayla in their heavenly home.

Karen Flowers
Ron was a true gentleman. He was friendly and compassionate and welcomed new people (like me) as colleagues from the time we arrived at the J-school.He always complemented the work of scholastic journalism at USC — SCSPA, SIPA and CJI. We will miss his smile and his compassion.

Beth Dickey
Ron was a teacher and a scholar who supported SIPA and its work with high school media.  He always spoke favorably about us in meetings before and after his retirement.  We will miss his wisdom and kindness.

Pat McNeely
My heart is broken at the loss of our beloved friend and colleague Ron Farrar. He was a gracious gentleman and a nationally known and respected scholar. I especially loved working with Ron because of our mutual interest in newspapers and media history. He had a great sense of humor and was always fair, even-tempered and logical. I will miss him. 

Ran Wei
The news about Ron makes me sad. He hired me back in 1999 and I have kept in touch with him over the years (by exchange of Xmas cards, very classy). To me, he is the quintessential southern gentlemen. He will be remembered as a mentor, a colleague and a friend.

Debbie Reddin Van Tuyll
Dr. Farrar is the reason I came to South Carolina. Georgia offered me a full ride to do my Ph.D. there, but I was so impressed and taken with Dr. Farrar, I paid out of state tuition to come to USC instead. He was so welcoming and willing to direct my work according to my interests. And he was a tremendous dissertation director as a result. Plus, he was from the same small Arkansas town as my dad. They were both Fordyce Redbugs, and in many ways, he was like a second father.

Mark Dolan
 I owe so much to him. We spent time together when he came to Ole Miss several years ago now to write a book about the history of our journalism program, and without him, we would not have a school today. The students loved him indeed. I will miss Dr. Farrar’s presence in the world. 

Dr. Farrar was also instrumental in developing the journalism program at Ole Miss earlier in his career; ironically I would end up moving to Oxford later and earning tenure at Ole Miss. He was a fabulous writer and historian, won South Carolina’s faculty research award. Above all, he was kind, with an attitude that all things are possible, and that good ideas mattered. 

Ginny Lopiccolo
Ron was one of the warmest, most intelligent people John and I have ever known. We are grateful for the years of friendship that we shared with him and Gayla.

Dr. Yousef AlFailakawi
Ron was like a father to me and I still remember when I met him for the first time and he said to me that no student had impressed him like the way I did. He invited me with my family to his house and the boys still remember him. My heart is tearing. I wish I had seen him before he died.

Diane Veto Parham
He truly was a fine man. Without his support, I’m not sure I would have been able to complete my master’s. And he was always a delight when I ran into him in the years after I finished the program, always interested in what in what I was doing now. A kind, honorable and brilliant man who made an impact on so many lives. I will always remember him fondly.

Susan Craig Fromknecht
He was a kind man who always had time for his students. He never failed to greet us with a smile. He loved listening to us and telling us stories. He enjoyed sharing interesting things he had observed or learned. Thinking of his family and many friends.

Jodie Peeler
There is no way I can put into words everything Ron Farrar meant to me. He was my teacher and my champion. So much of what I have achieved in the last quarter-century, I owe to him. So many students I have helped, I helped because Ron Farrar showed me how to lead with mind and heart. I am heartbroken.

George Johnson
Sorry to hear about Ron Farrar. He was an inspiring teacher (graduate-level communications law) and a really nice guy who never failed to say hello years after that one course.

Tommy Benston
 Dr. Farrar was an all-around class act. It’s a privilege to have been his student. I’m very sorry to hear of his passing.

Susan Duncan
Dr. Farrar was the first person I talked to about attending graduate school. I always enjoyed seeing him and saying hello in the hallway. His encouragement and advice was priceless. 

Dorothy Hafer Wardrip
He was a really good, gentle man and a good friend to Jon. I am so sorry to hear of his passing.

Ferrell Wellman
Ron was a fine man and a wonderful scholar. He was a big help to me during my time at USC. I was always grateful. My condolences to his family, friends, colleagues and students. I know many will remember him with a smile.

Jomah Al-Anzi 
So sorry to hear the passing of a great man and former professor who had a great impact on me during school years.

Jennifer Moons Boyd
I had the great pleasure of meeting and getting to know Mr. Farrar recently as we provided home delivery meals on behalf of his daughter. Such a nice man who had a smile on his face and a kind word for me every time I delivered.


Beloved husband, father, grandfather, and great-grandfather, Ronald Farrar died May 18, 2020, at the age of 84.

Ron had the remarkable gift of never meeting a stranger. He was a great listener, a good man who truly cared about everyone he met and, in turn, they cared about him. He made and kept friends for life.

The son of Truman Langdon Farrar and Grace Johnson Farrar, he was preceded in death by his wife, Gayla Dennis Farrar, by a brother, William Ward Farrar, who died in early childhood, and by his cousin, Perry Johnson. He is survived by his loving children and their spouses: Janet Farrar Worthington and Mark Worthington, Bradley Truman Farrar and Carole Farrar; and six grandchildren: Blair Worthington Parrack and her husband, Ted Parrack, Andy and Josh Worthington, Elizabeth, Grace, and Caroline Farrar; and one great-granddaughter: Avery Parrack. He was so proud of them all. He is also survived by his cousins: John Farrar Johnson, John Vernon Johnson, Stephen Johnson, and Clinton Johnson; and by dear friends who were very important to him: Beverly Katker, Will Norton, Arthur Zhu and Tao Lu, and many others, including the countless students he taught and mentored at universities across the country.

Ron completed his military service as a Captain in the U.S. Army. He was an internationally respected and gifted professor who taught, wrote and conducted research for nearly four decades. When he retired in 2001, Congressman James E. Clyburn said this on the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives:

“Mr. Speaker, I rise today to pay tribute to Dr. Ronald T. Farrar of South Carolina on the occasion of his retirement from the College of Journalism and Mass Communications at the University of South Carolina. Dr. Farrar is the epitome of what a college professor should be, and he is respected and loved by faculty and students alike.

“Along with the many articles Dr. Farrar has authored and published, he has written such books as Reluctant Servant, Mass Media and the National Experience, with John D. Stevens, College 101, Mass Communication: An Introduction to the Field, The Ultimate College Survival Guide, Walter Williams: Journalist to the World, and Powerhouse: The Meek School at Ole Miss.

“Dr. Farrar is deeply respected in the fields of journalism and academics. His expertise and talent have earned him commissions to write numerous articles and conduct national studies. He has been awarded various grants and awards, including the Distinguished Service Medal for Research in Journalism in 1969 by the Society of Professional Journalists, for Reluctant Servant: The Story of Charles G. Ross. From 1971 to 1973, he was a consultant for a continuing study of television audiences for the Public Broadcasting System. Faculties for the U.S. government, private sectors and journalistic associations have been privileged to have him serve on their boards.”

Rep. Clyburn went on to list some of Ron’s many grants and awards, and continued: “Dr. Farrar was appointed the Reynolds-Faunt Memorial Professor in 1986 and held that professorship until his retirement. He will now be recognized as Distinguished Professor Emeritus.

“Mr. Speaker, I ask you and my colleagues to join me today in honoring Dr. Ronald T. Farrar for the incredible service he has provided through a lifetime in the academic community. I sincerely thank him for his outstanding contributions… and wish him good luck and Godspeed in his future endeavors.”

His family is grateful for all the years we had with him, and we eagerly look forward to seeing him again one day in Heaven.

Due to conditions at this time, the family will hold a graveside service on Saturday, May 23, 2020, with plans to hold a memorial service this summer. In lieu of flowers, contributions to the Ronald T. and Gayla D. Farrar Award in Media and Civil Rights History in care of the University of South Carolina School of Journalism and Mass Communications would be appreciated.

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