In Memory

Malcolm A 'Mal' Deans - Class Of 1939

Malcolm A 'Mal' Deans

Malcolm A. "Mal" Deans, a veteran reporter and editor who became one of the University of Colorado's most popular and influential journalism teachers, died December 29, 2005 of pancreatic cancer. He was 83.

Friends, colleagues and former students described Deans as a "journalist's journalist," a gifted storyteller with an infectious passion for the craft of writing and, foremost, fair and responsible reporting.

Deans first heard of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy while on a train home from his job as an editor of the Philadelphia Bulletin, an evening paper with a circulation of 670,000. He disembarked at the next station and went straight back into the newsroom, said Daily Camera editor Susan Deans.

"A big story was what he loved more than anything," Sue Deans said Thursday.

Barrie Hartman, former Camera executive editor and longtime friend, called Mal Deans "someone who came out of the golden era of journalism, and he was part of the gold."

CU history professor Patricia Limerick said Deans had a perfect vision of what the press should be and shouldn't be.

"I think that many of the afflictions of the press and the news media would be cured if people had always listened to him, if they had his voice and tone and good sense," she said.

Deans was born Jan. 4, 1922, at his family's farmhouse in Phoenixville, Pennsylvania, to Catherine Price Norris and Malcolm Arnold Deans. His father was a naval officer, and the family moved often. Deans graduated from South Pasadena High School in California and studied journalism at Washington and Lee University in Lexington, Virginia, where he was a member of Sigma Nu fraternity and played baseball. After graduating in 1943, he was drafted into the U.S. Army, spending most of his tenure at Camp Lee, Virginia, where he also worked for the camp newspaper.

His newspaper career began with a reporting job at the Call-Bulletin in San Francisco. He worked for several evening newspapers, among them the Richmond, Virginia News-Leader, the San Diego Tribune, the Los Angeles Mirror and the Philadelphia Bulletin.

Although he moonlighted as a columnist for the Camera and the Rocky Mountain News - where he was the first newspaper ombudsman in the history of Colorado newspapers - in the 1980s, Deans was best known in Boulder as a teacher.

He arrived here in 1974 on a one-year teaching fellowship at CU. There, he met his future wife, a journalism graduate student who returned with him to Philadelphia. The Philadelphia Bulletin shut down in 1975. Deans returned to CU as a full-time instructor the following year, with Sue Deans taking a job at the Camera.

Deans retired in 1986 and moved to Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, when his wife became managing editor and later editor of The Sun News. Deans taught classes at Coastal Carolina University and worked on the Sun News copy desk during hurricanes and staff shortages. The couple returned to Colorado in 1999 when Sue Deans became an editor at the Rocky Mountain News, and then back to Boulder in 2003, when she was named the Camera's editor and vice president.

Popular Rocky Mountain News columnist Gene Amole devoted his May 13, 1999, column to badgering Deans about his outspoken affection for a mysterious Philadelphia delicacy called scrapple.

"Mal Deans stopped by Tuesday. He just blew in from South Carolina where he didn't finish his book. You remember Mal. He was our readers' representative and took particular delight in dealing with readers who found occasional fault with this column," Amole wrote.

"Prior to that, he worked on our copy desk. And prior to that, he inflicted journalism on the students at the University of Colorado."

When Amole died three years later, Deans said: "He was never mean. Gene could look at something and be opposed to it, such as (Denver International Airport), but he approached it in an honest way."

Deans might well have been describing himself.

Clint Talbott, Camera columnist and former Deans student, was editorial-page editor for the Campus Press in the early 1980s. Deans had founded the weekly student paper three years earlier and critiqued it with students each Monday.

"He showed that you didn't have to be a jerk to be a journalist," Talbott said. "His criticism was always intelligent and meaningful and helpful."

Camera sports columnist Neill Woelk said Deans was his most influential teacher and that Deans played a similar role for many. Woelk was editor of the Campus Press in 1981 when Deans noted a misspelled name in the paper. Deans told the students it would take years to regain that person's trust.

"He said you just had to be right," Woelk said.

Deans refused a professorship at CU, preferring to remain an instructor. Joanne Arnold, associate dean of the CU journalism school at the time, recalls Deans saying he'd "rather be a chief petty officer than an ensign."

Paul Voakes, dean of CU's journalism school, said Deans was consistently the most highly rated teacher at the school, and that his contributions included the creation of an internship program in which senior students work at local newspapers. The program continues today.

"He is remembered as a consummate professional journalist and a supportive mentor," Voakes said.

Since returning to Boulder in 2003 until his sudden illness in recent weeks, Deans regularly met for coffee at the Trident Booksellers & Café with former Camera sports editor Dan Creedon and others. They would talk baseball, a passion of Deans' since his high school days pitching to Jackie Robinson, who hit him hard.

Creedon was at the Trident again Thursday.

"If he said he was coming down for coffee, I'd have looked through the newspapers," Creedon said. "You'd just be embarrassed if you hadn't seen this or that good story."

Survivors include his wife; a daughter, Kathryn Deans-Schaub and her husband, Harry C. Schaub, of Philadelphia; two sons, Timothy M. Deans and his wife Donna, of San Diego, and Jeffrey Foss, and his wife Lee, of Brighton; a grandson and a brother, John Deans, of Coronado, California.

His mother preceded him in death in 2004 at age 105; his father died in 1941.

The Daily Camera, December 30, 2005