An email arrived just a few minutes after the call from Provost Emeritus Ed Wilson (’43) regarding the same news. “Dear Lovers of Writing, we mourn the death of one of our greatest writing alumni, Neil Morgan.” It was from Tom Phillips (’74, MA ’78), director of Wake Forest Scholars and the organizer of the first Words Awake! conference in 2012. We knew we had lost a distinguished alumnus.
Morgan died on Saturday at his home in La Jolla, Calif., and quickly the news media from local public radio stations to television stations to newspapers including the Los Angeles Times were paying tribute to the chronicler of San Diego. NBC 7 reported on how he was a media icon, with one journalist saying that when Morgan was writing his column in the 1960s, ’70s and, as editor of the San Diego Evening Tribune, in the ’80s he was probably the best known person in San Diego.
Morgan was Wilson’s classmate on the old Wake Forest campus, where he was an English major and served as editor of The Student. Wilson remembered him as someone who pursued his dreams. In an earlier Wake Forest Magazine article, Morgan said he owed much to Edgar Estes Folk Jr. (’21), faculty adviser for student publications and a former New York newspaperman “who got me in a lot of trouble and got me out of most of it.”
Morgan was a native of Smithfield, N.C., and the son of a North Carolina Baptist minister who lived to be 101. His stint as a young Navy officer took him to San Diego, and that’s where he began his California journalism career, embarking on what journalist Logan Jenkins wrote was “a 60-year running poem of civic purpose.” For decades he was a columnist, then editor of the Evening Tribune starting in 1981 until 1992. After the Evening Tribune and The San Diego Union merged to form The San Diego Union-Tribune, he stayed on as associate editor and senior columnist. He worked there until he was fired in 2004 and left the newsroom to a standing ovation. He then teamed with a venture capitalist to co-found a new nonprofit journalism model, the Voice of San Diego, a pioneering news organization that has inspired others throughout the country. In October the organization established the Neil Morgan Fund for Investigative Reporting, a fitting tribute for a journalist who by all accounts thrived on teaching younger reporters. Voice of San Diego turns nine years old this month.
You will find plenty of remembrances of Morgan’s life and career on the web, but this from the Voice of San Diego is among the best you will read about an old-fashioned journalist committed to truth. And look for an obituary in the summer issue of Wake Forest Magazine.