James Spaulding, one of 1st to teach at UC Berkeley’s journalism school, dies at 94

Martha Casselman/Courtesy

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UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism Professor Emeritus James Spaulding, known for his keen eye for words and keener taste for fine wine, died July 30 at his home in Calistoga, California. He was 94.

Spaulding was formerly a science and medicine writer for the Milwaukee Journal but joined the graduate school faculty after being recruited by its founding dean, Edwin Bayley, in 1969. He taught the introductory writing and reporting class and was a specialist on scientific topics, according to former colleague Bill Drummond.

Drummond described Spaulding as an “excellent line editor” with a “wry sense of humor,” recalling instances when Spaulding would draw cartoon stick figures hanging from nooses next to problematic lines in students’ work.

The students that came out of his section were the ones who had the greatest appreciation for the value of words,” Drummond said.

Michael Castleman, a former student and advisee of Spaulding in the late 1970s, also remembered that Spaulding was not afraid to use his red pen for edits.

There was so much red ink that I couldn’t believe it,” Castleman said. “He really tore down on the structures of ledes and paragraphs, and that’s something I have always appreciated.”

Spaulding helped shape the campus Graduate School of Journalism as one of its first instructors and was a “legend in his own right,” according to Drummond. Students benefited from having a professor who — lacking a doctorate in the subject — was not “an academic” in the traditional sense, he said.

After the early generation of professors retired, the J-School moved into more of an academic, bureaucratic complexion,” Drummond said. “I mean, it’s not very often you have a colleague who’s also a winemaker.

In addition to his passions for teaching and writing, Spaulding devoted much of his time to running Stonegate Winery which he founded with his first wife in 1972 — in Calistoga. According to Drummond, Spaulding would often supply bottles of his own wine at faculty meetings.

The faculty meetings in those days were very congenial and enjoyable thanks to Stonegate Winery,” Drummond said. “I bought cases on more than one occasion.

Spaulding met his second wife, Martha Casselman, after retiring from the school in 1986 to manage his vineyard full time. According to Casselman, he stayed active by biking and running well into his later years.

I didn’t know Jim when he was working at the J-School, but his colleagues would come up, drink wine and look at the beautiful view from the vineyard long after he retired,” she said.

Casselman described her late husband as “even-tempered” and “reserved.” The first time she saw her husband angry, however, was when Spaulding was reading an obituary in the New York Times and noticed an essential detail missing, instantly becoming irritated by the author’s carelessness.

Spaulding left a memorable impression on both his colleagues and students at UC Berkeley, according to Casselman. Tom Leonard, who taught at the journalism school with Spaulding for more than a decade, agreed he was “a teacher students did not forget.”

Castleman, who went on to become a professional journalist and author after studying with Spaulding, said the two kept in touch long after Castleman wrote his thesis under Spaulding’s guidance.

Spaulding’s modesty permeated his professional and personal lives, according to his wife. Casselman said that “if he knew all the fuss (people) were making about him after his death, he would wonder what it was all about.”

Still, she emphasized his strong sense of self-motivation and lust for life.

The night before he died, he beat his grandson at gin rummy, 3-1,” she said. “Fair and square.

Contact Ariel Hayat at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @ArielHayat.