Cleve Mathews, founding NPR news director, dies at 84

ASHEVILLE, N.C. — Cleve Mathews, newsman and journalism educator, died Jan. 14, 2011 in Asheville, N.C.. He was 84 years old. The cause of death was esophageal cancer and its subsequent complications, according to a family press release.

Mathews was a long-time MAIN supporter and served on MAIN’s Community Journalism Advisory Board.

As the first news director for National Public Radio (NPR), from its origin in 1971 to 1974, he set up the network’s then unique news operation, in which reporters were given much more time and support than usual to examine news topics thoroughly. He quarterbacked the team that created “All Things Considered” under creative coach Bill Siemering and shared the American Bar Association’s Gavel Award for explaining legal issues in Watergate. In 1972,

“All Things Considered” received the George Foster Peabody Award for excellence in broadcast journalism.

Before joining NPR, Mathews served in a variety of editing posts, from 1959 to 1971, at the New York Times including assistant foreign editor under Harrison Salisbury and associate editor of the Washington bureau under Max Frankel.

In 1974, he left journalism to begin a long second career in academia. From 1974 to 1977, he was a professor of journalism at Wichita State University. From there he moved to the S. I. Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University, where he served as a professor and assistant dean from 1977 to 1991. In 1980 he took a one-year leave of absence to serve as the first Atwood visiting professor at the University of Alaska in Anchorage and help establish a journalism program there.

Mathews retired to Asheville in 1992, where he lectured regularly on media and public affairs at the College for Seniors at UNCA until he fell ill in 2010.

He was co-author, with William L. Rivers, of the book “Ethics for the Media.”

Cleve Lindell Mathews was born on a farm in Bosque County, Tex., son of Rufus and Irene Mathews. He is survived by his wife of 63 years, Marion; three children: Tom Mathews and his spouse, Lois Heinlein, of Portland, OR; Kate Mathews and her spouse, Bob Bowles, of Barnardsville, NC; and Rich Mathews and his spouse, Jane Gianvito Mathews, of Asheville, NC; three grandchildren; one great-grandchild; one brother, John Mathews and his spouse, Sally, of Lewisburg, PA; and numerous relatives in the Waco, TX area.

He was in the Navy Officer Training Program at the University of Michigan when World War II ended. He subsequently earned Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees at Michigan. It was under the tutelage of Wes Maurer that his interest in journalism flourished. He began his career at the St. Louis Post Dispatch.

In his later years, he wrote poems and won first place in 2007 in the Poetry Council of North Carolina contest for traditional poetry. A selection of his poems is published on the Internet at www.clevemathews.com.

A memorial service will be held at 11 a.m. Friday, Jan. 28 at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Asheville. His ashes will be interred in the Church’s Memorial Garden, a facility he tended to for some years.

In lieu of flowers, gifts may be made to the Unitarian Universalist Church of Asheville and the North Carolina Center for Creative Retirement’s College for Seniors at UNC-Asheville.

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