May 23, 2024

Event Coverage Highlight

The Roy Rowan Memorial — A Glowing Tribute

By Bill Holstein

Tom Brokaw. Photo: Bill Holstein

Roy Rowan officially departed this world the same way he lived it — with complete integrity displayed through a globe-trotting seven-decade career, with humor and deep friendship, with love of wife and family, and indeed with gallantry. He embodied the essence of the 20th century foreign correspondent. Those who sang his praises at a memorial at the Century Club in Manhattan on Feb. 3 even argued that his example might help guide the media profession as it moves further into the uncharted waters of governments attacking its legitimacy and of an economic model that continues to shift beneath its feet.

Reflecting the depth and length of a 50-year friendship, Dick Stolley, a former OPC president, spoke first. Stolley said Roy helped train him to undertake the style of writing that he later established at People magazine. “He taught me to write short,” Stolley said. “Anyone can write long. But it takes courage to write short.”

When Stolley flew in from the Los Angeles bureau of Life magazine to cover the assassination of John F. Kennedy in Dallas in November 1963, he quickly obtained the frame-by-frame Zapruder tapes of the actual killing. Roy went to Chicago to supervise production of the magazine and decided to exclude the particularly gruesome image of the president’s head exploding. The trust and partnership between Rowan and Stolley was deep.

Roger Cohen, an OPC member and former correspondent and current columnist with The New York Times, eulogized Rowan as “a friend, a role model and an inspiration to me.” Cohen continued: “He was fearless. He was indomitable. He had gusto, a lust for life. He could not stand injustice or inhumanity.”

Former OPC President Richard Stolley. Photo: Bill Holstein

Former OPC President Richard Stolley. Photo: Bill Holstein

Invoking a theme repeated during the two-hour-long memorial, Cohen said that Rowan and those of like mind “would have relished the fight for the liberties that we all hold sacred. Phrases like ‘alternative facts,’ ‘post-truth’ and even the tautological ‘face-based journalism’ would have sparked their ire and made their antennae for every hint of authoritarianism quiver.”

And he added: “In the end, it’s very simple. Without truth, democracy dies.”

Other media giants rose to praise Roy such as Tom Brokaw, television anchor and author of The Greatest Generation, and Norman Pearlstine, who has held senior positions at The Wall Street Journal, Bloomberg and Time Inc.

Pearlstine told a particularly hilarious tale of Roy inviting him to go on a 6:30 a.m. jog through the streets of Seoul in 1974 and talking while he ran of all the intrigue in the Blue House, the presidential mansion. A huge bus suddenly appeared and threatened to crush Pearlstine. Roy pulled him out of harm’s way — and continued talking politics. “I was only face-to-face with death once,” Pearlstine explained. “Roy was responsible for it. He also saved me.”

One of the most personally revealing comments came from David Hume Kennerly, a world-famed photographer, who spent time with Roy in Vietnam. Kennerly confessed: “He taught me to see.”

For my part, I explained how Roy was president of the club from 1998 to 2000 and wrote letters to all his friends beseeching them to join the club. Then at the OPC Foundation, whose board he joined, he raised the money to create the Roy Rowan scholarship in 2000. Every year for 16 years, I explained, he came to our annual luncheon, met the young winner of his award and took a keen interest in that young person. He kept coming even in recent years even as his physical condition deteriorated. “Roy was my hero,” I said. “He taught me to never give up, to never stop doing the things you believe in.”

Roy's son, Marcus Rowan. Photo: Bill Holstein

Roy’s son, Marcus Rowan. Photo: Bill Holstein

The OPC was represented by former OPC President Larry Martz and his wife Ann Martz; as well as former presidents Allan Dodds Frank, Michael Serrill, John Corporon, and David Andelman. Former Executive Director Sonya Fry also attended, as did current board member Bill Collins of Ford Motor Company, and his wife Catherine Collins, and OPC members Jeremy Main, Jordan Bonfante and Evelyn Bausman, widow of John Bausman.

Read More:

Read a poem Marcus Rowan read at the service >>
Read remarks from Roger Cohen read at the memorial service >>
Read a page of remembrances from OPC members >>
Read letters written to Roy Rowan from U.S. presidents and other luminaries over his long career >>
Recollections of Our Trip Up the Amazon, a dispatch by Marcus and Roy Rowan >>