Founder of Columbia’s journalism grad program dies at 90


Courtesy/Grace Carlson-Lund

Eric Lund became Columbia’s first graduate journalism program director in 1984.

By Campus Reporter

Eric Lund gave Columbia its journalism graduate studies program and Columbia gave him the gift of meeting his wife. 

His wife, Grace Carlson-Lund, remembers meeting him in 1990 at a friend’s party in Evanston, Illinois, where the two realized they both taught at Columbia and shared a passion for art and music.

Lund, a former reporter and editor, died Jan. 16 at the age of 90.

“He was extremely kind and pleasant to everyone he interacted with,” Carlson-Lund said.

Before becoming the creator and first director of the journalism graduate program in 1984, Lund worked as an editor and reporter for various news organizations,  including the Chicago Daily News and the Evanston Review. 

Norma Green, a professor in the Communication and Media Innovation Department who worked with Lund, said he was a great mentor who prepared her to succeed him in 1994 by explaining the logic behind the graduate program’s curriculum and leaving her a collection of alphabetized and neat office files.

“He was a master of organization,” Green said.

Nicholas Thompson, one of the first graduate students of the program, said at times, when quietly sitting on a campus corner, Lund would approach him and say “Don’t worry, it will be all right.” Those words would comfort him, he added.

“He was  a first-class gentleman,” Thompson said. “He was very patient and always ready to help.”

Lund also taught at the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University, his alma mater, and North Park College—now University—where he got the experience he needed to design Columbia’s grad journalism public affairs program with associate director Nicholas Shuman in 1984. 

Elizabeth Owens-Schiele, former student and now an adjunct professor in the Communication and Media Innovation Department, said her favorite memory of the grad program was the trip Lund organized to Washington D.C., where he took them to the FBI building,  Congress and the Supreme Court.

“What was so incredibly professional about Eric is that the program was so comprehensive and an actual training ground for journalists,” Owens-Schiele said. 

Green praised his sense of humor, curiosity and serenity, all of which allowed him to succeed in hectic  newsroom environments.

“He had a very calming influence,” Green said. “News can make you crazy and he would always be the voice of reason.”

Lund, a son of Swedish immigrants, remained true to his roots and worked as the editor of the Swedish-American Historical Society newsletter until 1997. 

Lund had an appetite for journalism that motivated him to work on stories even during his final days, Carlson-Lund said.

Carlson-Lund recalled how in the hospital, her husband attempted to dictate to her a response to an email he received about an article he had been working on.

“His mind was active with the things he was involved with—close to the end,” Carlson-Lund said.

His passion for life made him an avid traveler, always accompanied by Grace, his best friend and wife.

“We would no sooner be home from one trip than he’d be planning the next one,” Carlson-Lund said.

Lund was strict and expected students to meet their deadlines, but he was always wearing his distinctive smile, Thompson said.

“He was really someone that was emblematic of what Columbia was about,” Green said.