Amherst Magazine

Howard M. Ziff ’52

Howard M. Ziff ’52 died April 10, 2012.
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HOWARD F. ZIFF ’52

Howie Ziff came to us from nearby Holyoke, Mass. Son of a curtain maker, he retained largely secular ties to the Jewish community throughout his long life. He was the largest member of our class and, when he came to Amherst, he had already developed an outsize personality to go with it. In freshman history, Melvin Kranzberg ’38 explained Napoleon’s victories over broad coalitions as “Howie Ziff against the kids in the Little Red Schoolhouse.”

A liberal Democrat and an arm wrestler, he didn’t suffer fools gladly and rounded on us with vehemence and wit. A philosophy major with a strong literary bent, he argued, in Gail Kennedy’s seminar, in favor of Freud’s ideas on “Henry IV, Part I,” with Prince Hal as ego struggling between Hotspur’s superego and Falstaff’s id.

On stage he was hilarious as the huge boss-mayor of Chicago in Ben Hecht’s The Front Page.

Drafted, he saw combat in Korea and was then the bureau chief of the army’s paper, Pacific Stars and Stripes. Then he had a long, varied and rich career in journalism. Howie rose to assistant city editor at the Chicago Daily News, where he worked from 1958 to 68, had a spell at the University of Illinois and a Fulbright to Europe, and in 1971, he was called to found a remarkable journalism program at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, his major life’s work, retiring in 1998. His colleagues and students there have been loud in their praises of his imagination and integrity as a journalist, his insistence that journalists be writers, historians and humanists, not just reporters, his standing as a “streetwise intellectual,” his unusual friendliness to his students, his gruff crusty exterior over his heart of gold, his hosting of WBGY’s program of old movies and his celebrated pipe. At our 40th reunion panel, he excoriated bad and corrupt journalism.

Howie Ziff embodied and inspirited the overused phrase, “larger than life.” He is survived by his wife, Jane, and his children Ellen and Max.                                          

— Frank Randall ’52

 

Comments

I took only one course with Professor Ziff--"Ethics in Journalism"--but he remembered me 10 years later when I emailed him to say I was interviewing for the editor's position at Amherst. We met for coffee at Rao's and talked about my interview, the college, the newspaper industry and other things. When I thanked him for his time, he actually thanked me, saying how much professors enjoy being back in touch with former students. He was a great professor and a very nice man.

 

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