University News

In Memoriam: Ralph Whitehead Jr.

Ralph W. Whitehead Jr., professor emeritus of journalism, died on Monday, May 9, at the age of 78. Whitehead taught at UMass Amherst from 1973 until 2016 and was known by both colleagues and students for his engaging style of teaching, often working one-on-one with students to help them improve their writing and prepare them for their future endeavors.

NEWS Ralph Whitehead Jr.
Ralph W. Whitehead Jr.

“Someone has asked me fondly about Ralph Whitehead at every UMass Journalism alumni event I’ve attended. It’s a testament to how Ralph was a positive presence and mentor for generations of students. Our condolences to his family,” said Brian McDermott, current chair of the journalism department.

The impression he left on his students was so profound that Boston Globe columnist Kevin Cullen recently wrote about it.

While teaching at UMass Amherst, Whitehead published hundreds of articles and reviews for top academic journals, as well as mainstream publications. Many of those articles were on what he called the “new collar class,” which he described as a postindustrial working class, created by cultural and economic forces. He also served as a UMass system-wide professor of public service, an assistant to the UMass president and an assistant to the UMass Amherst chancellor.

Prior to working at UMass, Whitehead worked as a reporter for a number of publications and a television station in Chicago. He also served as press secretary for several political campaigns, including Kevin White’s campaign to become mayor of Boston.

Whitehead earned his B.A. in philosophy from Lawrence University in 1965 and his M.A. in political science from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 1967.