David Littlejohn — UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism professor emeritus, author and critic — died June 4 in his Kensington, California, home at the age of 78.
Littlejohn’s journalism and teaching careers began at UC Berkeley, where, after studying architecture, he decided to pursue journalism instead. Later, he received a doctorate from Harvard University before returning to UC Berkeley to teach.
During his teen years, Littlejohn broke his neck, leaving him partially paralyzed. His daughter, Victoria Littlejohn, described her father as someone who was creative and fostered a sense of “wonderlust” within her and her brother, Greg Littlejohn. According to Victoria Littlejohn, growing up with her father was a marvelous experience. He would carve dollhouses out of cardboard boxes for her, she said, and maneuver himself into rides at Disneyland to sit next to his children, despite his physical limitations.
Now, as adults, Victoria and Greg Littlejohn said they see how attributes of David Littlejohn’s parenting — such as perseverance and determination — have influenced the people by whom he was surrounded, whether students, friends or family.
“He was mentor to everyone he knew in some way,” Greg Littlejohn said. “He went beyond the normal textbook way of teaching and set many people up for success.”
David Littlejohn was also a recipient of UC Berkeley’s Distinguished Teaching Award and the Berkeley Citation. He had an “addiction to writing,” Greg Littlejohn said, and published about 400 works — including reviews, profiles and critical essays — and wrote 14 books over the span of his life. Additionally, he worked on a show called “Critic at Large,” which aired on KQED TV and PBS.
“He had unlimited energy (and) was interested in everything under the sun in terms of cultural reporting,” said Tom Leonard, former campus librarian and one of David Litttlejohn’s friends. He said Littlejohn, who faced more limitations than most people, did more to stay on top of 20th and 21st century culture than anybody else he knew.
According to Littlejohn’s colleague Joan Bieder, associate dean teaching professor of the campus Graduate School of Journalism, Littlejohn’s death has been a big loss for the school.
“He had such depth of knowledge and had devoted his life to the arts world,” Bieder said. “So we haven’t been able to find someone who could teach that area with anywhere near the competency that he taught it.”
Littlejohn’s former student and friend Paul Zalis said Littlejohn was instrumental in making UC Berkeley’s journalism school a nationally recognized program that produces Pulitzer Prize-winning graduates.
“His former students and friends and colleagues are effuse in their good fortune to have crossed paths in their lives with him,” Zalis said. “He was someone you don’t come across very often.”