January 24, 2011

Tribute: Rozier was a public face of Emory

John W. Rozier was 92

John W. Rozier, Emory's longtime communications director who used his intimate knowledge and extensive network to raise the University's profile, died from respiratory failure on Jan. 8 at his Atlanta home. He was 92.

A Sparta, Ga. native, Rozier '39C-'47G first enrolled in Emory during the Great Depression. Back then, the University was a burgeoning, regional institution with an enrollment of less than 1,500. Rozier delayed his studies for a year while earning his tuition at an insurance firm. He later graduated Phi Beta Kappa in time for World War II. He volunteered for the Navy and commanded a landing craft tank through four Mediterranean invasions, including the war's largest amphibious operation in Sicily with a front spanning more than 100 miles.

After the war, Rozier returned to Emory to receive his MA in journalism, edit The Emory Wheel and meet Dorothy Evans, the woman who would become his wife of 61 years. Later, as a Foreign Service Officer, he attended ceremonies inaugurating the Korean Republic in 1948 and was among the last American officials to evacuate China during the communist revolution in 1949. He fled Chungking with a cash-filled embassy satchel manacled to his wrist.

After receiving a plum assignment in Beirut, Rozier left government in 1952 to purchase the weekly Wrightsville, Ga. Headlight newspaper, serving as publisher and occasional delivery boy. He later owned the Henrico County Herald in Richmond, Va., before moving to Atlanta to comb Vogue for story ideas as editor of the woman's pages for what was then The Atlanta Constitution.

In 1959, Emory recruited Rozier to direct the Emory News Bureau, a precursor to the University's Office of Communications and Marketing. During his two decades in the post, Rozier served under three University presidents, led the Campus Report (now Emory Report), and helped solidify Emory's national reputation.

A consummate professional, he crafted the University's communications strategy during pivotal moments, including University desegregation and the 1965 "God is dead" controversy.

"Everybody knew John in those days. He was such a popular figure around campus and he always had a twinkle in his eye," recalls Linda Matthews, retired director of the Woodruff Library.

Rozier maintained his easygoing nature even while orchestrating damage control, says Dorothy Rozier '46J. He frequently walked to work and swam laps with the students during his lunch hour.

"If he didn't like somebody, you wouldn't know it," echoed his son, John Paul.

To honor Emory's sesquicentennial in 1986, Rozier volunteered to conduct a series of audio interviews with influential faculty members to discuss the shifting landscape of the University, remembers Ginger Cain '77C-'82G, interim director of the Manuscript, Archives, and Rare Book Library (MARBL).

"He watched Emory grow up and he appreciated the changes," she says.

For his service, Rozier was recognized by the American College Public Relations Association and received Emory's Alumni Award of Honor in 1978 and Distinguished Emeritus Award in 2007.

He retired from Emory in 1979, after being awarded a National Endowment for the Humanities grant to research political developments in Hancock County, Ga., his family's home since the 18th century. The result was "Black Boss: Political Revolution in a Georgia County," followed by two award-winning books on Southern culture, "The Granite Farm Letters" and "The Houses of Hancock."

A voracious reader and book collector, Rozier donated his source material for "Black Boss" to MARBL and remained active in the University by attending readings and events at Woodruff Library. He was a regular participant in the Corpus Cordis Aureum, a University Commencement event that celebrates alumni who graduated 50 or more years ago.

"John was a complete gentleman who loved Emory and labored on its behalf with utmost distinction," says Trustee Emeritus Charles "Pete" McTier '61BBA. "His sincerity, respectfulness and friendliness were hallmarks of his personality."

Rozier rarely discussed his personal accomplishments, preferring to immerse himself in University archives before point-and-click research became the norm.

"He felt like Emory was the story, not him," says Cain.

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