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Journalism professor Paul Atkins passes away at 95

Paul Atkins

Paul Atkins, a loyal WVU alumnus and revered journalism professor died on Tuesday, February 19, at the age of 95.

Atkins was beloved by students who describe his teaching style as “tough but fair.” During his 33 years teaching in the P.I. Reed School of Journalism, now the Reed College of Media, Atkins was promoted to assistant professor, then associate professor and finally full professor before he retired as a WVU professor emeritus in 1986. His focus on precision and accuracy is often cited by many alumni as key to their success in journalism and communications careers.

“Professor Atkins was a positive force for so many of us in journalism. We have lost a true legend,” said Scott Widmeyer (BSJ, 1975). “He touched thousands with his wisdom during his long tenure in the J-School.” 

In addition to being a full-time professor, Atkins served as the faculty advisor of The Daily Athenaeum for 12 years, holding the position longer than anyone else. Known as the “Flying-A”, Atkins was legendary for marking up the previous day’s newspaper with red pen and displaying it in Martin Hall, so his students could learn from their mistakes.

“I was a student of Paul's in 1969, so I know how tough and rewarding his teaching was,” said Alan Waters (BSJ, 1975), managing director of the DA from 1981 to 2015. “He loved his job and his students. Even in retirement, he’d often walk from his home nearby to offer guidance to students at The Athenaeum. And after offering solutions in the midst of controversary, he was famous for concluding with ‘This too shall pass.’ I am forever grateful for Paul’s mentorship and support.”

Originally from Welch, West Virginia, Atkins came to WVU with a wave of other World War II veterans who were taking advantage of the new G.I. Bill. He graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Journalism in 1949 and spent three years as a reporter for the Lynchburg (Va.) News and then the Richmond Times-Dispatch before accepting the DA advisor position at his alma mater.

Atkins with Students

In recognition of his significant accomplishments, in 1986, Atkins received the P.I. Reed Achievement Award — the most prestigious award bestowed by the College and its alumni association. Later in 2013, he was given the College’s Commitment to Service Award for his unparalleled dedication to the College.

“Paul’s dedication to the College of Media never waned. His love for the school and his spirit of giving back and always being there for the school’s leadership, faculty and students, was an amazing attribute and something for all of us to model,” said Widmeyer, who serves on the College’s advisory committee.

Beyond his teaching, Atkins made an impact through his financial giving to the College of Media. He and his late wife Mildred promised the entire proceeds of their estate to the college, a gift that was realized just last year. And he regularly donated to a scholarship established in his name by the Dominion Post in 1993. He also inspired giving from other alumni. In 1992, he was instrumental in securing funding to build and furnish the DA’s current location on Prospect Street. And in 2017, Martha Smith (BSJ, 1970) established an endowment fund in Atkin’s name as part of her planned gift to the University.

“We will miss Paul so much,” said Maryanne Reed, Dean of the College of Media. “He was not only a dedicated and highly influential teacher who launched many journalism careers, he was also an incredibly generous supporter of the College who donated so much of his own resources to help future students succeed. Paul left a legacy that will live on for generations.”

A memorial service will be held Friday, February 22, at First Presbyterian Church in Morgantown, West Virginia. Visitation is at 10 a.m., followed by the service at 11 a.m. Flowers or memorial gifts may be sent to the First Presbyterian Church at 456 Spruce St., Morgantown, WV 26505.

Tribute gifts to honor Professor Atkins will be accepted by the WVU Foundation and applied to the Paul A. Atkins Scholarship Fund. These funds assist future journalism students with their studies and professional endeavors. Donations can be made online at give.wvu.edu/reed-college-of-media. Select the Paul A. Atkins Scholarship from the list of options.