Remembering Rose Economou

By Heather Scroering

Human rights activist, broadcast news producer and seven-time Emmy-award winner are just three of the roles Rose Economou, associate professor in the Journalism Department, filled in her lifetime.

“She was a person more passionate about social justice, more passionate about honest journalism, more passionate about the belief that every individual should be totally involved in the world around them than anyone else,” said Hodding Carter III, journalist, politician and long-time friend of Economou.

Carter was a state department spokesman for the Carter Administration and producer and editor of PBS’s “Inside Story.” He is also a four-time Emmy-winner, one of which he won with Economou.

Economou, who taught for 21 years at Columbia, passed away in her home in Oak Park, Ill., on Oct. 2. The cause of her death is not yet known. She was 65.

Born on March 22, 1946 to Greek-American parents, Economou grew up on the South Side. She is the second eldest of six.

According to her brother, John, Greek was her first language.

Economou came to Columbia in 1990 and joined the full-time faculty in 1993. Carla Pesono, senior journalism major who Economou taught in three classes, described her as a “mother figure.”

John Green, chair of the Theatre Department who was on College Council with Economou, noted her dedication to the college and passion for what she believed in.

Green worked with her consistently from May to August creating the Columbia College Assembly that will replace the College Council.

“I was struck by her feistiness and her absolute love for Columbia,” Green said. “I loved being in the company of this woman who was totally committed to the college [and] totally committed to the students.”

Shereen Mohammad, senior journalism major, was taking Economou’s Media Ethics and Law and Broadcast News Writing classes in fall 2010 when she was involved in a car accident.

“The only thing I can remember [from the hospital] was Rose,” Mohammad said. “On the day of my [21st] birthday, Rose had actually called me at the hospital, sent me a cake and had the whole class sing ‘Happy Birthday’ to me.”

Economou’s brother said she was deeply active in student government at Chicago Vocational High School. She continued to feed her passion for politics in college, graduating from the University of Illinois at Chicago in 1968 with a bachelor’s degree in political science and education.

She was the first in her immediate family to attend college, according to her brother.

By 25, Economou was working as an advance woman for Sen. Edmund Muskie’s political campaign and gained recognition by Time Magazine and journalist Sara Davidson, who wrote a lengthy article about her work.

“The thing that impressed me was [that] she was absolutely fearless,” said Randy Albers, chair of the Fiction Writing Department, who met Economou early on during her time at Columbia.

According to her Columbia obituary, she reported and produced for an ABC News affiliate in Virginia, worked for ABC in Washington, completed projects for CBS and ABC News and created her own documentary production company in 2000, With Heart Productions.

She produced many documentaries, including one called “Pope John Paul II in America,” for which she won an Emmy, according to her resume.

“Rose was an enigma,” John Economou said. “[She] never talked about any of the accomplishments that she had. She would tell us these great stories, but she would never be boastful or brag about that stuff.”

Economou also worked on several “Frontline” episodes and produced her own, called “Not One of the Boys,” about American women in politics during 1984, according to

She was a Nieman Fellow at Harvard University from 1980–1981.

In 2005, she was awarded Outstanding Hellene in Broadcast by the United Hellenic American Congress, according to her resume.

Pesono commented that Economou was never “cocky” in the classroom, and she would invite many world-renowned guest speakers to share their stories in her class.

“She would look at them like, ‘Wow, you did that?’” Pesono said. “She really [acknowledged] other people’s work and [appreciated] it, and that’s what made her special.”

One of many speakers who spoke to Economou’s class was Jayson Blair, former New York Times reporter who left the publication in 2003 after the discovery of plagiarism and fabrication in his stories, according to Pesono.

During her time at Columbia, Economou created and taught many journalism classes, but focused on Broadcast News Writing, International Journalism and Media Ethics and Law in the past few years.

She also organized trips overseas with students. She was planning a trip to Greece and Turkey for January 2012 at the time of her death, according to colleagues.

“One thing that was a crusade of hers [was] encouraging all students to see the world however you could,” said Nancy Day, chair of the Journalism Department.

Day hopes to establish a program in Economou’s name for students who cannot afford to travel abroad.

A memorial service will be held for her later in the semester, Day said.

Albers said Economou was the “heart of Columbia” and her presence will be missed.

“She was rare,” Mohammad said. “That’s what Rose was. She was a rare breed of [the] human species.”

Rose Economou’s visitation will be on Oct. 10 from 3 – 9 p.m. at Blake Lamb Funeral Home/103rd, 4727 W. 103rd St., Oak Lawn, Ill. Her funeral service will be held on Oct. 11 at 10 a.m., at St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church, 10301 S. Kolmar Ave., Oak Lawn, Ill.