Past Presidents Obituaries

Malcom Sillars


Malcolm Sillars

NCA President: 1980


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Malcolm O. Sillars, longtime University of Utah faculty member and administrator, passed away in Salt Lake City on November 12, 2018 at the age of 90. Malcolm was a special man with an extraordinary career, loved for his kindness, humility, and dry humor. He was a first generation college student, who doubted his own abilities but was drawn to teaching and found a path through his talent for speech, drama, and debate. In high school, counselors and teachers advised Malcolm that high school teaching was likely out of his reach and discouraged his interest in debate, as the team was for “really bright students.” Malcolm persevered and exceeded expectations, winning the California state high school championship in two-person, policy debate during his junior year at Mark Keppel High School, and later, the Pi Kappa Delta debate national championship at Redlands College.

Malcolm received his M.A. from Redlands (1949) and PhD at the University of Iowa (1955), taught at Iowa State University (1949-53), California State University, Los Angeles (1954-56), San Fernando Valley State College (now California State University, Northridge; 1954-71), the University of Massachusetts (1971-74), and University of Utah (1974-98). Malcolm served as acting President of Valley State (1969-70) during a tumultuous period of anti-war and civil rights protests, following the resignations of three presidents in a single year. Preceding incidents included a demonstration with over 400 arrests and student-led occupation of the administration building, with the former President held captive. Malcolm left a sabbatical to take the acting president position, explaining to the LA Herald-Examiner in typical self-deprecating fashion that, “they asked 67 other people first, people who had enough sense to turn it down.” Malcolm’s remarkable composure when speaking to angry crowds and willingness to establish open, frank lines of communication with any group helped calm the situation and broker a detailed plan acceptable to all sides. Malcolm’s approach (“I listen to them, and they listen to me”) was credited by the Herald-Examiner with bringing “order out of chaos, substituting reason and dialog for force.”

Malcolm was appointed Dean of Humanities at the University of Utah (1974-81), then returned to teaching as Professor of Communication at Utah until retirement. Mal and Char embraced the Utah culture, enjoyed the mountain lifestyle, became loyal Ute fans, and hosted many parties for their close network of friends in the Department of Communication. Although not a religious man, Malcolm read extensively about Mormon traditions and Utah history, reflecting his inherent curiosity about the human experience and respect toward all people.

Over the duration of his career, Malcolm served as President of the Western States Communication Association and National Communication Association, authored or co-authored books on public speaking, argumentation, and rhetorical criticism, and produced an influential program of scholarship on political rhetoric, value analysis, and social movements. He was a key organizer of the Alta Conference on Argumentation from its inception in 1979. As NCA member, Mal was not a fan of the convention theme, so NCA had its “no theme” convention in 1980 when Mal served as President and refused to have one. Although he made many professional contributions, teaching remained Mal’s first love. He was a beloved mentor for numerous students and left a deep footprint.

Ronald Allen


Ronald Allen

NCA President: 1979


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Ronald R. Allen, age 87, passed away surrounded by his family on Wednesday, July 11, 2018. Allen served as NCA President in 1979. Born in Horicon, WI, on December 8, 1930, he graduated from Beaver Dam High School and received his Bachelor's degree from the University of Wisconsin - Eau Claire (then known as Wisconsin State College - Eau Claire) in 1952. Following four years of service as a naval air intelligence officer in the South Pacific, he married his college sweetheart JoAnne Elizabeth Kuehl in February, 1957, in Eau Claire, WI. Upon receiving his Ph.D. from the University of Wisconsin - Madison in 1960, he joined the faculty at Amherst College (Amherst, MA) before returning as a faculty member to the University of Wisconsin - Madison in 1963, where he retired as Professor of Communication Arts and Curriculum Instruction in 1990. He and his wife JoAnne have been residents of Sun Prairie, WI, since 1963, and additionally winter residents of Green Valley, AZ, since 1991.

A devoted teacher and mentor, as well as debate coach, he trained generations of future teachers and wrote textbooks on language education for pupils spanning elementary school age to college. He was an active member of the Speech Communication Association, serving as its president in 1979. His students remember him as a passionate mentor with a wry wit, one who was always accessible and available to advise and assist on matters professional and personal. He had a playful way with words and disliked it when people became "inebriated by the exuberance of their own verbosity." A proud father and grandfather, he was generous and playful, and never missed an opportunity to reveal his pride for all of his family. His generosity and kindness extended well beyond his family, to neighbors, strangers, and friends; upon retirement he routinely shuttled the elder Green Valley neighbors to appointments and treated them to outings. An active member of the United Methodist Church of Sun Prairie, he served a term as lay leader and taught the Bethel Bible Series study.

He is preceded in death by his parents Clayton and Hazel (Whipple) Allen, and his sister Iris Stehowsky. He is survived by his wife of 61 years, JoAnne, sons John (Katja Ehrmann) Allen and David (Sheela) Allen, and grandchildren Emily Allen, Wil Allen, Ella Allenbeck, Josh Allen, and Jacob Allen.



Lloyd Frank Bitzer

NCA President: 1976


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Lloyd Frank Bitzer died October 13, 2016, at the family home at age 85. From 1961 to 1994, he was a professor at the University of Wisconsin, specializing in the history and theory of rhetoric.

Dr. Bitzer was born January 2, 1931, in Wapakoneta, Ohio. He was an undergraduate at Southern Illinois University from 1950 to 1952, then served two years in the U.S. Navy, after which he completed his B.S. and M.A. degrees. He earned his Ph.D. in rhetorical studies from the University of Iowa, and joined the University of Wisconsin-Madison as an assistant professor in 1961.

In 1976, Dr. Bitzer served as President of the National Communication Association. He also won the NCA Distinguished Scholar Award in 1997, the James A. Winans-Herbert A. Wichelns Memorial Award in 1968, and the Golden Anniversary Monograph Award in 1979. As a professor in the humanities, in which scientific method, evidence and precision are never decisive, he wrote essays and books that came as close to truth as he could manage. As a teacher, he supplied students with original writings by the best authors.

He is survived by his wife of 63 years, Jo Ann (Eblen) Bitzer; daughter Jo Claire and her husband Herman Tucker; son Evan; two grandchildren, Danny (Kimberly) and Jolene Bitzer, and their mother Kim; great-grandson Lincoln Eric Bitzer (son of Danny and Kimberly); and brother James Mark Bitzer. Two sons predeceased him: Eric T. Bitzer (father of Danny and Jolene), and Jeffrey C. Bitzer. Of his siblings, those deceased are Clarence William Bitzer and Helen (Bitzer) Sheets.

Jane Blankenship


Jane Blankenship

NCA President: 1978


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Dr. Jane Blankenship, the 64th President of the National Communication Association (1978), passed away on April 24, 2015. Born in 1934 and a native of Huntington, West Virginia, Professor Blankenship was a graduate of the University of Akron and received her Ph.D. in 1961 from the University of Illinois. Her mentor was Marie Hochmuth Nichols, NCA’s 55th President. She was also mentored by NCA’s 72nd President, Wayne Brockriede, when she served as an assistant for his debate program. Dr. Blankenship served on the faculty of Mount Holyoke College’s Rhetoric and Composition program before moving to the Department of Communication at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. During her tenure there as Director of Graduate Studies, the university established a Communication Ph.D. program. Dr. Blankenship retired as a professor in 1997. Active in several of the discipline’s associations, she also served as President of the Eastern Communication Association.

Dr. Blankenship received numerous prestigious awards throughout her career, including many from NCA – the Golden Anniversary Monograph Award (1975); the Robert J. Kibler Memorial Award (1988); the Douglas Ehninger Distinguished Rhetorical Scholar Award (1992); the NCA Feminist and Women’s Studies Division Spotlight Scholar (1994); the Wallace Bacon Lifetime Teaching Excellence Award (1997); and the NCA Women’s Caucus Francine Merritt Award for Outstanding Contributions to the Lives of Women in the Field of Communication (2002).

As part of an NCA initiative to capture the stories of women who have been prominent in NCA and beyond, Dr. Blankenship joined other women leaders in sharing her personal and professional experiences in an essay that is posted to the NCA website.



Bruce Gronbeck

NCA President: 1994


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Bruce Gronbeck (1941 – 2014) was President of NCA in 1994. He also won NCA’s Distinguished Scholar Award, Samuel L. Becker Distinguished Service Award, and Golden Monograph Award for his many contributions to the field of Communication.

He died September 10 in Iowa City doing what he loved so much: being with his friends and colleagues at the University of Iowa. He delivered his last lecture Tuesday, and then hours before his death on Wednesday, was bathed in love and gratitude from his colleagues and students at a celebratory dinner.



Loren Reid

NCA President: 1957


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Dr. Loren D. Reid, the 43rd president of the National Communication Association (1957), passed away on December 25, 2014, at the age of 109. Born in 1905 and a native of Gilman City, Missouri, Professor Reid was a graduate of Grinnell College and received his Ph.D. in 1932 from the University of Iowa, (one of the first doctoral degrees in Speech awarded in the United States). His doctoral advisor was A. Craig Baird, NCA’s 24th president. Dr. Reid joined the Department of Speech and Dramatic Art (now the Department of Communication) at the University of Missouri in 1944, just four years after the department was founded. He remained a member of the Missouri faculty until his retirement in 1975, which ended a remarkable 31-year career as a teacher-scholar.

A significant and successful rhetorical scholar, Professor Reid authored the influential essay “The Perils of Rhetorical Criticism” in the Quarterly Journal of Speech, 1944, edited the important 1961 collection American Public Address: Studies in Honor of Albert Craig Baird, and authored Charles James Fox: A Man of the People in 1969, a book published by the University of Missouri Press that received NCA’s Golden Anniversary Book Award and the association’s Winans-Wichelns Award for Distinguished Scholarship in Rhetoric and Public Address. Rare among Communication scholars, Reid’s research earned him an appointment as a Fellow of the Royal Historical Society.

As a teacher and mentor for generations of students at Missouri and those from colleges and universities across the nation, Reid personified the ideal “speech teacher.” Former NCA President Steven Beebe noted of his former teacher and mentor, “He was an inspiration to me and countless others during his legendary career as an educator, scholar, and academic leader…Thank you, Professor Reid, for illuminating my life and the light of so many others.”

Loren Reid’s long-time service to NCA and to the Communication discipline has no parallel. His leadership included service as both President and Executive Secretary of the National Communication Association (NCA) and Executive Secretary of the Central States Communication Association (CSCA). In 1981, Professor Reid received the NCA Distinguished Service Award, in 2002 he received an NCA Mentor Award, and in 2005 he was inducted into the CSCA Hall of Fame. Reid was also a founder of both the Speech and Theatre Association of Missouri and the New York State Speech Communication Association. A true champion of the discipline, Reid optimistically dedicated his time and considerable energy to the betterment of his students, the universities he called home, and the discipline he worked so hard to establish and maintain. He truly personified NCA founder and first President James O’Neill’s charge in 1915: “Those who take part in all the work that is before us can with better grace and better appetite enjoy whatever benefits this work produces.”