The memorial plaque on the Couric Seminar Room at the center does not mention his famous daughter, Katie, but it details her father’s career and steadfast service on the Mercer newspaper. Couric was editor-in-chief of The Cluster during his senior year.
“I always thought that his heart really belonged to journalism,” Katie Couric said in a telephone interview Thursday as she prepared for her talk show taping in New York.
The elder Couric was born in Brunswick but grew up in Dublin, where his first job in print came at The Courier Herald newspaper when he was in high school. While at Mercer, he worked for The Macon Telegraph until he graduated in 1941.
He helped invade Sicily during his stint in the U.S. Navy in World War II and retired from the Naval Reserve in 1965. He covered Georgia politics for the Atlanta Constitution and joined the United Press in the late 1940s to report news throughout the Southeast.
After chronicling a devastating hurricane that hit the east coast of Florida and the political storm that brought former Georgia Gov. Herman Talmadge to power, Couric joined the news service’s Washington bureau in 1951 and wrote about then-Senate Majority Leader Lyndon Johnson’s heart attack in 1955 and other items of interest from the nation’s capital, according to his obituary.
“My dad was really a Renaissance man,” Katie Couric said. “He could talk fluently about so many different topics, and I was just in awe of him growing up and later when I embarked on a career in journalism.”
He cut his teeth on print journalism but encouraged his daughter to pursue broadcasting.
She describes his unique combination of pragmatism and idealism. He brought values of honor, integrity and quality to his profession, she said.
When Katie was about 4, her father left what he later described as the “high priesthood of journalism” to embark on a more lucrative career to raise his four children.
“In some ways I wish he had stayed with it,” said the former anchor of the “CBS Evening News.” “I could see him being the editor of The Washington Post or have a high-ranking position in a major national newspaper.”
Instead, her father worked in public relations for the National Association of Broadcasters and the American Health Care Association before retiring in 1985 after six years at the Food and Drug Administration, where he wrote articles and speeches.
With Couric’s wide-reaching resume, Mercer awarded him an honorary Doctor of Humanities degree in 1996 when his daughter delivered the commencement address.
“John Couric loved Mercer,” said Larry Brumley, Mercer’s vice president for marketing communications, who met the Courics during their visit. “She’s just a wonderful, down-to-earth person. She loved her father, and that’s why she agreed to do the commencement.”
Katie Couric, who hosted “The Today Show” at that time, told the graduates and their families a story about her father picking up a prescription.
“Are you Katie Couric’s father?” the pharmacist asked.
“No, she’s my daughter,” he replied.
He was a serious journalist, but he had a lighter side.
“My dad had a great, wry and kind of sophisticated sense of humor,” said Couric, who fondly remembered his impersonations of the late Sen. Strom Thurmond.
Her dad emanated integrity, was passionate about his career and instilled in his children the importance of hard work.
His daughter believes the ideals he taught her and her siblings are valuable lessons for all future journalists.
He received a master’s degree in communications from American University and later was an adjunct professor of journalism there and at the University of Maryland.
In his later years, he was troubled by current media trends in blogging and websites that seize rumors and innuendos and report them as truth, his daughter said.
If he were able to lecture journalism students in his seminar room, he would likely tell them to be critical thinkers and strive to be great writers.
“My dad was passionate about it, too,” Couric said. “You have to have a fire in your belly to make the sacrifices, to work the long hours and to forgo a party on the weekend because you want to cover a story.”
Although he died of complications from Parkinson’s disease last year, the family is excited his legacy and passion for journalism will be remembered through the Center for Collaborative Journalism.
“I know (Mercer is) a place that he held really close to his heart for his entire life, and that was such a life-shaping experience for him,” Couric said. “I can’t tell you how much it means to all of us that he will be permanently remembered in this way.”