Record Banner
Vol.24, No. 01 Sept. 4, 1998

Fred Knubel, the University's Spokesman for 35 Years, Is Dead at 62

Fred Knubel, Columbia's spokesman for 35 years, who served five presidents and was a witness to the institution's most glorious and most turbulent moments, died Aug. 15. He was 62 years old.

Knubel was fatally injured while bicycling in the Springs district of East Hampton, N.Y., Saturday morning when an oncoming vehicle struck a deer, which then struck him. He was taken to Southampton Hospital, where he died after undergoing emergency surgery.

President George Rupp said: "The Columbia community is deeply saddened by the death of Fred Knubel, an ardent alumnus and devoted member of the University's administration. A man of quiet talent and integrity, Fred was a selfless advocate for Columbia and became the institutional memory of the University. He had thousands of friends and admirers here on campus, among our alumni and among the news media, many of whom got to know Columbia through Fred's ebullience. We shall miss him dearly."

Michael Sovern, president of Columbia from 1980 to 1993 and Kent Professor of Law, said: "I depended on Fred for many years to tell Columbia's story. He did it with grace and dignity. He is irreplaceable."

Alan J. Stone, vice president for public affairs and Mr. Knubel's supervisor, said: "Fred was an unusual man: deeply intelligent, very reserved and highly honorable, yet he brought to the workplace a sense of playfulness as well. Every day we called upon his good judgment, impeccable writing skills and his knowledge of the traditions of Columbia, and he never let us down. As a friend and colleague, I will miss him greatly."

As Columbia's spokesman, Knubel handled the University's major announcements, including prizes, gifts and discoveries. He announced all of Columbia's most coveted awards, including the Pulitzer Prizes, the Alfred I. du Pont-Columbia University Awards in broadcast journalism and the Maria Moors Cabot Prize, and the awarding of the Nobel Prizes to Columbia faculty and alumni. In 1991, he guided press coverage of Salman Rushdie's first public appearance in the United States after the death threats against him, on the occasion of the Graduate School of Journalism's celebration of the 200th anniversary of the Bill of Rights. He was acknowledged as dean of Ivy League university spokesmen.

"He could find the appropriate University sources at any time of the day or night to help reporters bring the proper context to breaking news stories on any subject," said Paul Carter, former senior advisor to the president at Columbia.

Knubel's career was shaped by the 1968 student protests. During those disturbances, when the Office of Public Information became an outpost for reporters covering the campus revolt, he helped reporters navigate the campus, even finding a spot for one to sleep.

A journalism school classmate, John Goldman, now New York bureau chief for the Los Angeles Times, said: "Over the 30 years we worked together, he was the consummate professional. He represented Columbia with integrity and he also represented journalism with integrity. That in today's world can often be a difficult line to walk, and he walked it well."

A passionate photographer, attentive to light, form, shadow and texture, he turned the classic lines and elegant detail of Columbia's McKim, Mead and White campus into visual poetry. His photographs were signature pieces in Columbia publications and have been displayed in Faculty House and in solo exhibitions on campus, including two in the Rotunda of Low Memorial Library. Of his show at the Interchurch Center in 1990, "Columbia Close Up: Elements of Style," one viewer wrote: "You helped me see long-familiar places with a new eye."

Frederick H. Knubel was born in Rochester, N.Y., on Dec. 11, 1935, and 10 years later moved to New Rochelle when his father, the Rev. Frederick R. Knubel, became president of the New York and New England Synod of the United

Lutheran Church in America. After graduating from Hamilton College in Clinton, N.Y., in 1957, he worked as a reporter at the Plainfield Courier-News in Plainfield, N.J., where he found his calling as a newsman. He earned an M.S. degree from Columbia's Graduate School of Journalism in 1959. He was hired that year as a reporter for the Rochester Times-Union, where he worked until 1963, when he joined the Columbia News Office, as it was then called, as assistant to the director, John Hastings. One of his first stories was the 20th anniversary of wartime development at Columbia of nuclear fission, and reporting on research fired his imagination. In 1967, he was promoted to associate director of the Office of Public Information, and then, in 1969, to Director of Public Information, the post he held at his death.

In addition to his wife, Judith Leynse, Knubel is survived by his mother, Alice Knubel of New Rochelle, a sister, Helen Perry of Milford, N.J., two stepsons, James and Andrew Leynse, four nephews and a niece.

A memorial service will be held in St. Paul's Chapel on Sept. 11 at 2:30 p.m.

-more-

-2-

-3-