Ralph Lynn Lowenstein, lauded as a visionary in the news industry and who led the University of Florida’s journalism school for nearly two decades in the post-Watergate era, died Monday after suffering a stroke. He was 90.
Lowenstein co-authored a landmark academic book in 1971 in which he predicted the “personal retrieval stage” of mass communication, predicting that anyone would be able to retrieve infinite amounts of specialized content from central computers.
“It seemed to me so natural, that rather than doing tons of newspapers, delivering them in cars, gasoline and everything else, that everything was going to be transmitted by television, too,” Lowenstein said in a 2016 interview.
As dean of Florida’s College of Journalism and Communications from 1976 to 1994, Lowenstein arranged for the installation of a large, integrated PC network, made up of some 300 computers – one of the earliest in a university environment.
Also during his time as dean, the college established the first citywide, continuously updated electronic newspaper in a venture with the Gainesville Sun and New York Times, and founded WUFT-FM, the Brechner Center for Freedom of Information and the Knight Division for Scholarships, Career Services and Multicultural Affairs.
“He loved the College of Journalism, and he was so proud to be able to help build it,” his wife, Bronia, said in an interview. She said Lowenstein died Monday at North Florida Regional Medical Center after suffering a stroke Sunday night.
Lowenstein always wanted to be a writer – “in chemistry I was struggling” – and began writing for newspapers in college, he said in a 1992 interview.
He reported for United Press International in 1949, later reporting for the Danville Bee and Register, the El Paso Times and eventually the CBS Morning News. In 1956, he began teaching at the University of Texas El Paso and later at the University of Missouri and Florida.
Lowenstein was born, the youngest of three boys, in March 1930 in the segregated South, in Danville, Virginia, near the border with North Carolina. His was among one of only a few dozen Jewish families in the area. His father – not allowed to play golf at the local country club because he was Jewish – ran the town’s jewelry store. The family’s rabbi was a refugee from Nazi Germany.
“I grew up being very much aware of what was going on and very conscious of being Jewish and being different from all of my friends,” Lowenstein said. He traveled to Israel and was one of the few Americans then to serve in the Israeli army in 1948, after his freshman year in college.
“When this is over I am going to go home and get my education and go to work as a journalist,” Lowenstein said he remembered telling himself.
Lowenstein described traveling from France to Israel in August 1948 on a crowded fruit ship with no fresh running water for five days with hundreds of Holocaust survivors. Passengers were provided a glass of water, can of sardines and hardtack each day.
“Worst five days of my life,” he said in a speech in 1948. “It was hell on earth.”
Lowenstein wrote a novel, “Bring My Sons From Far,” about his experiences during Israel’s war of independence.
Lowenstein received the Emma Lazarus Statue of Liberty Award from the American Jewish Historical Society in 2011. The award is presented to individuals or groups whose contribution reflects the highest values of the American Jewish community.
He served as chairman of the University of Florida Center for Jewish Studies Faculty Advisory Committee from 1977-1980 and was faculty advisor for the Jewish Student Union from 1976-1986. He was also the coordinator for the Gainesville Holocaust Memorial.
Lowenstein earned his bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Columbia University and his doctoral degree from the University of Missouri, where he was chairman of the news-editorial program prior to moving to Florida.
Lowenstein’s burial at B’nai Israel Cemetery was being arranged privately due to the pandemic.
Lowenstein is survived by his wife, Bronia, and two children, Henry and Joan, and six grandchildren.
This story was produced by Fresh Take Florida, a news service of the University of Florida College of Journalism and Communications. The reporter can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org