University pays high honor to Pulitzer-winning journalist George Ramos

I didn’t expect to need a tissue but I did. The moment I saw the display I got emotional. It was beautiful. There was George Ramos’ life encased in glass.

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George Ramos (Courtesy Doug Swanson)

There was a photo of George smiling when he was a student at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, and it smiled through the display. It’s appropriate outside the Mustang News newsroom. News was George’s love and he shared his passion with students. I met him when I was a student years ago. I was inspired by his success, tenacity, and roots from East Los Angeles. Dedicating this hallway to him was befitting.

Longtime friend and Cal Poly alumna Nina Zacuto knew George when they were students in the Journalism Department and worked together on the school paper. She says he really embraced his culture, and loved sports. During his time at Cal Poly, he was Editor-in-Chief, of then, Mustang Daily.

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“He wanted to give his community a voice, and then there was the sports. Sports just never went away. His vacations were going from city to city to watch baseball games,” Zacuto said.

George Ramos was part of a team of more than a dozen Latino journalists in 1983, chronicling the life and culture of Latinos in Southern California for the Los Angeles Times. It was a 27-part series. He would also be part of Pulitzer Prize winning teams covering the Los Angeles riots, and the Northridge earthquake.

Earlier in his career, while reporting for the San Diego Union Tribune, George went to Mexico and crossed the border with a group of migrants being smuggled into the country. “I remember him showing up at my house in Los Angeles wearing old baggy clothes and telling a chilling first person account of the experience,” recounts Zacuto.

In the display case, mementos were carefully selected to represent his life, including the Pulitzers, George’s tape recorder, a notepad; and anyone who knew George would understand the humor behind a green shovel labeled “Keeper of the Bull.”

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Dozens of alumni, staff members, students, and friends were there in the hallway for the special dedication in memory of George, who died in 2011 from diabetes complications.

“George was not only tough, but a fabulous reporter, he was a Pulitzer Prize winning journalist. He was a professor. He was our department chair, but he was a wonderful, wonderful man,” said Tracy Jackson Campbell, former Cal Poly San Luis Obispo Journalism Department Advisory Committee Chairman.

The tribute to George was prompted after his death, when journalist Elizabeth Aguilera inquired about money that had been collected when George died. Cecilia Alvear, former President of NAHJ who knew George through his Latino news organizations, contacted the school and soon thereafter, George’s friends, Cecilia Alvear, George Lewis and Nina Zacuto were on campus selecting items from his office for this special honor. It was decided that the funds would go into a scholarship fund that George had established at Cal Poly to promote diversity.

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During the hallway ceremony, the most recent George Ramos Scholarship recipient, Mustang News Editor in Chief Celina Oseguera wanted to share her pride in this award.

“I feel very happy to carry that legacy of diversity,” said the student from Stockton, California, “The fact that someone of my heritage was able to be at this position of power, so early on, just makes me very inspired.”

But the tribute to George Ramos did not end there. Cal Poly San Luis Obispo also inducted George into its very first Cal Poly Student Press Hall of Fame, along with three other recipients. This event culminated with its 100-year anniversary of delivering the news.

A video explaining George’s impact and even showing an interview with him was played during the anniversary celebration.  On the video, George reflected on his life.

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“Then is always now. You always remember your roots. Remember who you are, where you’ve come from, what motivated you, the sacrifices your parents and grandparents made for you. I made sacrifices too for the next generation of reporters. that’s why I’m here and that’s why I’m the way I am,” George said on video as waves from Morro Bay rolled in the background.

Accepting the award on his behalf, Los Angeles Times Digital Editor, Brian De Los Santos, who is also a board member for the National Association of Hispanic Journalists. George was a founding member of NAHJ, as well as the California Chicano News Media Association. De Los Santos, proudly pointed out that he, just like George, is part of a Pulitzer Prize winning team from the L.A. Times that won an award for its San Bernardino terrorist attack coverage.

De Los Santos said he read some of George’s news stories.

“It made me feel passionate about journalism. It made me feel like I had a face in journalism. Whether I knew George or not, he still impacted my life,” De Los Santos said.

To remember and honor George, donate to the George Ramos Scholarship for Journalism Excellence Endowment.

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