Of putative interest

Author: Kerry Temple ’74

For decades Dick Conklin ’59M.A., who directed Notre Dame’s news and information operation and was later the associate vice president for University Relations, dispensed memos with “Of Putative Interest” printed across the top. (He relished fancy words.)

So, too, will I suppose this note to be of interest to you. It should be, if you are reading this magazine.

This caricature of Dick Conklin, by artist Darren Thompson, appeared in the autumn 2002 issue of Notre Dame Magazine to accompany a piece Conklin wrote about his career as a Universal Notre Dame Night speaker

Dick Conklin, 77, having suffered a heart attack in retirement in Mendota Heights, Minnesota, died a few days before we finished off this issue for the printer. He didn’t give us much time for a proper obituary. But we couldn’t go to press without a wave goodbye, and he deserves this space.

From 1967 to 2002, Conklin was the central figure in the University’s media relations and communications juggernaut (inside joke). He had as fine a pen as this place has ever known, was a meticulous editor and a quality control monitor. (For years he critiqued this magazine, returning his issue with notations, edits and commentary scribbled throughout — a practice he stopped shortly after I became editor. Whew.)

He was also a perspicacious counselor to deans and directors, vice presidents and faculty, and lead coordinator for presidential visits and fundraising events. In my 35 years here I have known no one who was smarter, more loyal, more savvy, who had better judgment about the place, who could better read all the signs and currents and risks and opportunities — the politics and personalities of this complicated, nuanced, self-absorbed, lightning-rod institution.

Dick loved Notre Dame, and his wise and loving touch — often invisible — shepherded a multitude of moving parts toward the fulfillment of its ideals as a Catholic university. He, working alongside presidents Hesburgh and Malloy, helped script the University’s ascendancy.

Dick was a giant, a legend to many of us. He was also one of the creators of Notre Dame Magazine. He, along with the first editor, Ron Parent, Father Hesburgh and Jim Frick, the longtime vice president for University Relations, conceived of this publication in 1972 and gave it the autonomy it needed to thrive as a lively, thoughtful, engaged periodical that represented the best of Notre Dame and its aspirations.

Even in his role as the chief PR official and University spokesperson, Dick steadfastly defended the magazine’s mission to deal forthrightly and independently with tough institutional issues, to do stories that appealed to the school’s conscience and to take on provocative topics of importance to its readers.

A regular contributor of articles and essays, he once served briefly as an interim editor and was a member of the magazine’s editorial advisory board until he died.

His was a voice of reason and careful discernment; his advice has long guided my own thinking, and as long as the magazine can persevere according to its chartered course, Dick Conklin’s presence will endure here as well.

Notre Dame will miss him; it already does. But the biggest loss will be felt in the lives of his wife, Annette ’81M.A., and his children, Rick ’86, Christy ’88 and Marc ’91. The rest of us are left to carry on and smile with affection at all the memories.