Northwestern held an emotional memorial service for intrepid reporter James Foley last month, and the Medill School honored its slain alumnus by presenting him posthumously with its prestigious 2014 Medill Medal for Courage in Journalism.
Foley’s mother, Diane Foley, his grandmother, Olga Wright, several close friends and nearly 200 students, faculty, staff and others attended the moving memorial Nov. 20, marked by haunting music from a string quartet, at Alice Millar Chapel on Northwestern’s Evanston campus.
“Jim was so proud to be admitted to Medill School here at Northwestern,” said Diane Foley. “It finally was a place for him to combine his passion for writing with his passion for people who didn’t have a voice, which began with Teach for America. So I am very grateful to Medill.”
She noted that Medill and its people “have walked with us for the last two years.”
Foley, who earned his master’s degree from the Medill School of Journalism, Media, Integrated Marketing Communications in 2008, was killed Aug. 19 by extremists in the Middle East after being held hostage and imprisoned for nearly two years. He was captured in November 2012 in Syria, near the Turkish border, while reporting for the online publication GlobalPost.com.
“I’m very proud of Jim. There’s no way we can replace him,” Diane Foley declared in a strong, stoic voice, “but I pray that other young journalists will be inspired by his life—to be people of courage and people who dare to report the truth. Because our democracy depends on it.
“It was something so important to Jim,” she said. “I hope people will come to value courageous journalists like him the way we value our servicemen and women.”
Diane and her husband, John Foley, have created the James W. Foley Legacy Fund to “honor what Jim stood for by focusing on three areas he was passionate about.” The Fund aims to build a resource center for families of American hostages and foster a global dialogue on governmental policies in hostage crises, to support American journalists reporting from conflict zones and to promote quality educational opportunities for urban youth.
Speakers at the services talked about their remembrances of Foley, his commitment to teaching, his passion for the story and how he rarely turned down an opportunity to visit Medill or Skype with students, no matter where in the world he was at the time.
Richard Stolley '52, '53 MS, a member of the Medill Board of Advisers and senior editorial advisor of Time Inc., also spoke at the service and made a surprise announcement, revealing that Foley would be awarded the 2014 Medill Medal for Courage in Journalism.
The award is given to the individual or team of journalists, working for a U.S.-based media outlet, who best displayed moral, ethical or physical courage in the pursuit of a story or series of stories.
Stolley said Foley met all three of those criteria and especially deserved the honor because—after he was held hostage once before in Libya—he chose to return to the Middle East to cover conflict there. Foley’s “compulsion to tell the truth,” Stolley observed, demonstrated his extraordinary “ethical courage.” He said future honorees would have to measure up to the standard Foley set for “bravery, integrity and truth.”
A New Hampshire native, Foley worked as a teacher after attending Marquette University. He was in his 30s when he came to Medill to pursue his master’s degree. Foley is remembered by friends, family and colleagues as a fearless journalist who made friends easily and cared deeply about the marginalized in society. While studying at Northwestern, Foley worked as a language arts teacher at the Cook County’s sheriff’s boot camp, an alternative to prison.
Foley’s 2012 disappearance marked the second time he had been kidnapped. The previous year, he had been captured in Libya and held for 44 days in a Libyan prison. Just two weeks after his release, Foley visited Medill and spoke to students about his experiences in captivity and his previous reporting in Afghanistan.
“Every day I want to go back,” he told the students. “I’m drawn to the front lines.”
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