Introducing Harry Morgan

By Paul Maximilian Bisca

Perhaps the feeling we immediately experience when faced with the disappearance of a loved one is that of sheer perplexity, caused by the sudden realization that we must speak in the past tense about an individual whose non-existence is difficult to accept. Once this feeling subsides, however, questions of a different nature come to the fore: how did I first meet this person? What do I best remember about him? What is the great message of her life? Did I give back to him as much as he did to me? When we last met, did I let her know how much she meant to me?This past Tuesday, Oct. 30, 2007, I learned that American journalist Harry Wayne Morgan died in the county hospital of Timisoara, Romania. He had been under lung treatment for three weeks and doctors were optimistic, but just as his recovery seemed certain, his heart gave up. He was 73 years old and during the last four of those years, we got to know each other.

My encounter with Harry came at a time when my life was riddled with question marks. I was then a high school senior looking to continue my education in the United States after having lived here as an exchange student. Which colleges to chose? Could I get any scholarships? Do I have a chance? – these dilemmas became all too familiar. Through a friend of a friend of another friend, I ended up on Harry Morgan’s doorstep with the hope that he might have some answers to my puzzles. What I received from him was much more than I could have possibly asked for.

His first gift was a brochure about a small liberal arts college in St. Paul, Minn, named Macalester. He had worked here from 1960 to 1964, and said I should apply because this place would give me the intellectual grounding and worldly exposure that are crucial in the formative years of a young man.

His most valuable gift, however, was his friendship. This meant hours of summer conversations with a man whose life can be described as nothing short of extraordinary.

More than anything else, Harry was a journalist. As such, he insisted that writing is a deeply personal act, that regardless of the topic under scrutiny, one should always treat it with gentility and respect. Moreover, he believed that it is not necessary to travel the world in search of ground-breaking stories, for each small, forgotten, town in the middle of nowhere has its own grand narratives waiting to be discovered and recited. Yet his job as a reporter for Reader’s Digest took him to 105 countries; in the pictures which decorated his living room, he stood side by side with people who made it into the history books: Mother Theresa, Indira Gandhi or Eleanor Roosevelt, to name a few. He came to Romania in the 1970s to interview President Ceausescu, but returned to start the first cultural exchanges between Americans and Romanians. After Ceausescu’s regime fell in 1989, he helped start the Journalism program at the University of Bucharest, then moved to do the same at the University of Timisoara.

In all our beautiful talks, Harry reminisced about his days at Macalester with much fondness. Whether it was his wife knitting ear-muffs for a young Ghanaian student named Kofi Annan; getting phone calls from a DeWitt Wallace enraged by the hyper-liberal Mac kids’ anti-Vietnam protests; or starting the World Press Institute at Macalester in 1961- all these memories filled his eyes with a contagious excitement. And this excitement is shared today by those who knew him 40 years ago. In the words of James Toscano, president of the Minneapolis Heart Institute Foundation, “Harry was always upbeat, always optimistic and above all, he believed that you could make a difference.” However cliché this may sound, his life turned it into an example worthy of emulation.

To those we love, we owe nothing but total discretion. Nevertheless, I have chosen to break this rule and share with you a glimpse of Harry Morgan’s journey because apart from paying homage to a mentor, I have known no other person who better represents what Macalester ideally stands for. All of Harry’s endeavors were fueled by the simple, yet powerful vision that inter-personal communication based on the sincere willingness to entertain a dialogue with the other can lead toward greater understanding and consequently, toward greater good.

Paul Bisca ’08 wishes to thank John Ullmann and James Toscano for their contribution. He is an International Studies major from Timisoara, Romania, and can be reached at [email protected]