In Memoriam: John Windrow

John Windrow in his office

“As you get older, you realize that life is a litany of goodbyes.” So started John Windrow’s gorgeous in memoriam for local journalism legend and fellow Hawai’i Pacific University professor John Heckathorn. And now it is Windrow’s turn. Windrow passed away on July 8 of a heart attack. May it be half as well-written.

Windrow came to HPU first as an adjunct in 2001, then full time in 2006, after a long career in journalism. He was an editor at The San Antonio Light, the European Stars and Stripes, the Minneapolis and St. Paul Tribune and the Honolulu Advertiser. He retired from HPU in 2016, splitting his time between his native Tennessee and the Philippines with his wife and fellow author, Pat Laurel. He was recently named emeritus faculty.

If anyone could enact Lou Grant from the Mary Tyler Moore Show, it was Windrow.  David D. Perlmutter, President-elect of the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication recalled: “John Windrow was straight from a 1950s Humphrey Bogart movie about old fashioned, hard-nosing journalism: Tell the truth; use clear language; serve the common good.”

In an age where many live out Thoreau’s lives of quiet desperation, Windrow was a character, a storyteller, often a funny one. Allison Schaefers of the Star Advertiser remembers: “John was unedited. He was as raw and honest as fresh copy. He was filled with boundless talent and unlimited potential. He was deep, but he didn't take himself or life too seriously. I valued his insights and his musings. He was the quintessential newsman.”

Windrow immediately excelled when he transitioned to full time teaching. John started teaching at HPU as an adjunct in 2001, and from 2006 through 2016 taught full-time at the Instructor rank. He also served as a Program Chair when the department offered a Journalism degree, and served as advisor to the Kalamalama student newspaper from 2010 through 2016. John distinguished himself in several areas during his time here.

As adviser John oversaw the transition of the paper into a true student newspaper, following Society of Professional Journalists standards in practices. A few years later he took the publication through another transition, taking it online. Former editor Kara Jernigan spoken for many of the Kalamalama staff when she said: “Windrow was a talented journalist, great mentor, and compassionate friend. Over the years, Windrow became a father-figure. If it were not for his constant support and life lessons, I would not be where I am today. I am truly grateful to have known him.”

Windrow consistently earned some of the highest student evaluations, graduate and undergraduate, in the department.  He developed new and relevant internship opportunities and even helped restructure HPU’s Master’s in Communication degree with a core course in Intellectual Property and Media Ethics plus courses in Journalism History and The Literature of Journalism. Many students called him their favorite professor. Former student Jermel-Lynn Quillopo’s comments are typical:

You were not only my college professor but throughout my life, you became a colleague, a mentor, a father-like figure, and most of all, a friend. You influenced my love for telling stories. Because of your unconditional love and support, I was awarded scholarships, recognition awards and was even given opportunities to work with some of the best in the news business, both local and international. You were such a good man with such a good heart. A man who always looked for the best in people and helped people find their voice, find their passion.

Nicole Kato former Kalamalama editor and now regional editor at Midweek added: “Most of all I'll miss how you believed wholeheartedly in all your students, and while it sounds cliché, I wouldn't be where I am today if it weren't for you.”

An anonymous student gave what may have been Windrow’s favorite compliment: He kept me from being distracted in a Friday night class.

Windrow continued to publish during his time at HPU. He was one of the most published teachers in the Department of Communication, including a series of biographies for the Investor’s Business Daily and the self-published novel, Murderer’s Row.

John maintained strong ties with the professional journalism community in Honolulu that enabled him to establish a strong mentoring and placement network for HPU students and over the years HPU students have moved into, and are moving up in, careers at, to name a few, the Honolulu Star Advertiser, Midweek magazine, all three major network TV news operations, Clear Channel/I Heart radio, Pacific Business News, Honolulu Magazine, as well as neighbor island and various mainland news outlets.  Some have branched out as entrepreneurs and started their own online news and video services as well as moved into other media careers such as public relations in Hawai’i, on the mainland and internationally.

Scott Ishikawa of Becker Communications, one of the many John mentored, reflected:  “It's also scary to think several of your mentors that you used to lean on for guidance are no longer around. It is then you realize that you have become the mentor, the parent, the guardian, the grown-up. The wisdom and experience that the older ones taught us now needs to be passed on to the next generation, whether they are your children or younger co-workers.”

Whenever one of his former students or co-workers writes a well-crafted, honest sentence, John Windrow lives. Take care, kiddo.

Services are pending in Tennessee.

Submitted by John Hart, Ph.D.
HPU Chair and Professor of Communication