Journalist Al Rossiter Jr. died Monday at the age of 77 in Washington, N.C., leaving behind a storied legacy as the former director of the Duke News Service and assistant vice president in the University’s Office of Public Affairs.
Rossiter had battled with lung cancer for several years, though he was not a smoker. He had a strong impact on those who knew him and was known for both his talent and his kindness, said Keith Lawrence, director of media relations.
“Al was a classic newsman: he loved his news [and] he knew it inside and out,” Lawrence said. “He treated all his folks fairly, he was easy to work for, he had a good sense of humor, he took his work seriously but didn’t necessarily take himself seriously.”
Rossiter hired Lawrence at Duke News in 1995, and the pair worked together for six years.
Lawrence had fond memories of that time, recalling how Rossiter would stomp up the stairs with his heavy footfall and call “Meeting time!” to his staff. Lawrence noted that Rossiter carried this friendly manner into his work.
“He was very interested in what everybody was working on,” Lawrence said. “He expected us to match his own work ethic. He had pretty high standards for himself and...high standards for us, as well.”
As director of Duke News, Rossiter helped to raise the University’s profile and increase their media programs. Lawrence described him as a “strategic thinker.”
Prior to coming to Duke News, Rossiter began his journalism career with wire service United Press International. The job gave Rossiter the opportunity to explore the intersection between science and journalism—reporting stories such as the Three Mile Island nuclear power plant accident in 1979 and the first permanent artificial heart transplant in 1982. He eventually rose to the top of the organization, becoming its editor and executive vice president.
Lawrence added that Rossiter was especially proud of his coverage of the space program, including a story he wrote about the first men to walk on the moon that made the front page of The New York Herald Tribune.
“He was one of the few who really, from a journalistic standpoint, knew the ins and outs of NASA and the space program,” Lawrence said. “He was really on the frontline of history.”
Rossiter came to Duke in 1992 after more than 30 years with UPI. After retiring in 2001, he worked part-time for six years in the Pratt School of Engineering, first as communications director and then as associate dean for public affairs—hearkening back to his days as a science writer.
Lawrence noted the loss the community is already feeling at Rossiter’s passing.
“To me personally, Al is a friend and a mentor and just a heck of a newsman,” Lawrence said. “We’re missing him already.”
Rossiter is survived by his wife of 53 years, Sylvia Vanlandingham Rossiter, and their two grown children, Alec Rossiter III of Catonsville, Md., and Jill Rossiter Kerns of Bristow, Va.; Jill’s husband, Karl, and their son, Woody; a sister, Martha Rossiter Short of Charlotte, N.C.; and a brother, Thomas Howell Rossiter of Lebanon, N.J..