Al Rossiter Jr., former head of Duke News Service, dies at 77

Sep. 24, 2013 @ 04:54 PM

Al Rossiter Jr., who for 10 years was the director of the Duke News Service and assistant vice president in the university's office of public affairs, died Monday at Vidant Beaufort Hospital in Washington, N.C. He was 77.

Before coming to Duke in 1992, Mr. Rossiter was a science writer, editor and executive during a 32-year career with United Press International, one of the two major wire services in its day. He was an award-winning science writer for much of his career with UPI. In his Duke office he kept a framed newspaper story he wrote in 1969 about astronauts landing on the moon for the first time.

Mr. Rossiter rose to become UPI's editor and executive vice president, which made him responsible for the company's worldwide editorial operations.

Mr. Rossiter moved to Duke in March 1992, where he was director of the news service until he retired in December 2001. During that time, he led efforts to publicize the work of Duke's faculty; professionalized the news operation by establishing campus-wide news policies and media guidelines; and helped align communications programs with broader university goals.

After retiring as director of the news service, he continued to work part time as an associate dean in Duke's Pratt School of Engineering before retiring to the North Carolina coast, where he continued to write and pursue his love of sailing.

When Mr. Rossiter retired, the university renamed in his honor an award it gives each year for outstanding higher education reporting in the state. The Green-Rossiter Award now honors the contributions of both Mr. Rossiter and William Green, who served as Duke's director of university relations and later as university vice president during Terry Sanford's presidency at Duke.

"Al was a journalist's journalist whose integrity was rivaled only by his commitment to transparency," said John Burness, who as senior vice president for public affairs and government relations brought Rossiter to Duke. "Among many talented people I was privileged to recruit to Duke, Al arguably was the most important. The policies he established for Duke's news offices set a standard for universities across the country. In his own quiet and understated way, Al's leadership of Duke's news operations contributed greatly to the media's and the public's recognition of Duke's quality and its emergence as one of the great universities of the world.

"He also laughed easily and reveled in the success of others. And while Al took what he did seriously, he never took himself seriously. He was a wonderful colleague and friend."

Mr. Rossiter joined UPI as a staff writer in 1959. In addition to the Apollo moon flights, space shuttle missions and unmanned planetary missions, he covered major stories such as the outbreak of Legionnaire's disease in Pennsylvania, pioneering artificial heart transplants and the Three Mile Island nuclear accident. His science beat took him to the South Pole, West Africa and the wreck site of the USS Monitor 220 feet deep in the Atlantic Ocean. He was a finalist in NASA's Journalist-in-Space program.

Mr. Rossiter received numerous awards for his reporting on the space and science beat, including the prestigious 1987 Grady-Stack Medal from the American Chemical Society.

He is survived by his wife, Sylvia, two adult children and one grandchild.

There will be a reception from 4-6 p.m. Thursday at Hillside Funeral Service, 4500 Highway 264 East, Washington, N.C.