James. F. Scotton, a journalist and teacher, died on May 28, 2023, in Bayside, WI at the age of 91.
He spent 37 years at Marquette University and was a faculty member at 12 other universities. He was a proud former member of the American Newspaper Guild (ANG) and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW).
A native of Boston and Dedham, Scotton considered himself primarily a journalist but later became a college professor. He worked as a reporter and editor at six news organizations. His teaching and research took him to Europe, Africa, Asia and the Middle East. At Marquette he was Dean, department chair and faculty member, retiring in 2015.
“His mother told me he was running away from home before he even went to school,” said his wife, Christine Ryberg Scotton, “so I guess his travels should have come as no surprise.”
Scotton edited his high school newspaper and won a writing scholarship to Boston University. Jobs at the University News Service, a grocery store, a pharmacy, a dance hall and summers working as an apprentice electrician paid living expenses. He was drafted after graduation but avoided most arduous Army duties as News Director in the Public Information Office at Ft. Jackson, SC.
He then worked for newspapers in North Carolina and Wisconsin (The Madison Capital Time) and for the Associated Press in Wisconsin and Chicago. He also was a Washington correspondent for a group of Southern newspapers.
“My Washington boss decided my Boston accent sounded ‘southern’ enough on the phone, so I got the job,” he said.
While doing Ph.D. research and freelancing in East Africa, Scotton got an offer to stay on as a full-time newspaper correspondent. He decided that a journalist’s life in Africa would provide too little income so chose academia. He next spent a frigid winter teaching Journalism at South Dakota State University. He was back in Africa the next year heading a Mass Communication program in Nigeria. After that he taught at City University of New York, Pennsylvania State University, Temple University and Michigan State University before moving to Marquette University as Dean of the College of Journalism.
“I had a great experience as a print journalist before the Internet and iPhone killed that golden age,” he said. “Being a pundit in a state capital or Washington, DC, inflated the ego. My freelancing was a lot of work for low pay but was also a lot of fun.” Scotton also spent a few years in public information with the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the U.S. Office of Education.
Christine, his wife, said his happiest years were as a journalist. “He said he found most journalists broadly engaged with the world. Most academics, he said, were so narrowly focused that it made discussions difficult.”
Scotton wandered the world. As a graduate student he and his first wife rode a motor scooter through much of Europe, including areas controlled by the Soviet Union. In his academic life he was a Dean at Marquette and the University of Lagos, Nigeria. He headed Mass Communication programs at the American University in Cairo and Makerere University in Uganda. He also taught at Fudan University and Shanghai International Studies University in China. While in China he wrote for a Shanghai weekly and was an editor for an online news service. His overseas experience contributed to five books on International Communication that he co-authored.
Scotton had Fulbright appointments in Uganda, China and at Nairobi University in Kenya. He spent a summer teaching at Hariri University in Lebanon.
“Teaching overseas was no problem since many foreign students are fluent in English,” he said.
Scotton was a child of the Depression. His father was a meat cutter and his mother a clerical worker and later a teacher. He grew up in “Southie,” the Boston neighborhood made famous in crime novels and films. He was a member of junior gangs there but said the family moved to the suburbs before he was old enough to get into serious trouble.
“Our juvenile gang weapons in Southie were broomsticks, cardboard tubes and bottles,” he recalled. “The cops would occasionally come by, but we could easily outrun them.”
Scotton earned a B.A. degree in literature at Boston University and his M.A. (Political Science) and Ph.D. (Mass Communication) at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where he was a Teaching Assistant. While a graduate student there he counseled young men on avoiding the Vietnam War and ferried supplies to striking African-Americans in Mississippi. “We made sure to get out of town before dark,” Scotton recalled. A happy though frugal year in Paris produced a “Certificat” in French. “We stayed near the Sorbonne in an old hotel where the owner wisely had a live-in plumber,” he recalled.
Scotton was censured by Marquette when he violated University rules to warn a single mother that she would not get tenure. “One of my proudest moments,” he said. His promotion to Full Professor was then blocked by university officials despite faculty support.
“Marquette was generally very supportive,” said Scotton, “giving me leave for overseas assignments. But its authoritative hierarchy did not take kindly to challenges or even serious questions. This should not have surprised me since I grew up Catholic but later escaped to the Unitarians and Quakers.”
He is survived by Christine, his wife of 35 years, their son Anthony Francis Scotton of Milwaukee, his former wife, Dr. Carol Myers Scotton, a retired linguist, of Harrisonburg, Virginia, and their son Kenneth Scotton of Louisa, Virginia. Scotton and Christine have a Ugandan foster-daughter, Annette Nanziri, of Atlanta, Georgia. He is also survived by his sister Claire (the late Charles) Asbrand of Westwood, and brother Edward (the late Carol) Scotton, of Dedham, and a brother-in-law Eric Ryberg of Crystal Lake, IL. His sister-in-law Karen Ryberg and brother-in-law Jon Ryberg predeceased him.
A graveside service will take place on Saturday, June 24, at 11AM in Brookdale Cemetery in Dedham, MA. All are welcome.
Goodnight, Our Charming Wanderer.
The family wishes memorials to be directed to the Edward Pepan Scholarship Fund, Diedrich College of Communication, Marquette University, 1131 W. Wisconsin Ave., Milwaukee, WI 53233; or to the University of Wisconsin Foundation, 1848 University Avenue, Madison, WI 53726.