Award-winning journalist and longtime lecturer Susan F. Rasky dies

Susan F. Rasky, an award-winning Congressional reporter who returned to her native California to teach at UC Berkeley’s Graduate School of Journalism for more than two decades, died Sunday (Dec. 29) following a long illness. She was 61.

As a teacher, she was known for her passion for politics and her attentiveness to her students. Her connection to her students often extended years past their graduation.

Susan Rasky

Susan Rasky, UC Berkeley teacher and award-winning journalist, at the Graduate School of Journalism, February 2013. (Mateo Hoke photo)

A Los Angeles native, Rasky received a bachelor’s degree in history from Berkeley in 1974. She then traveled to England where she earned a master’s degree in economic history from the London School of Economics.

“We’ll miss Susan so much,” said Journalism School Dean Ed Wasserman. “She was deeply intelligent, caring, insightful, passionate and uncompromising. She personified what’s best about journalism and what’s noblest about our aspirations. And she was a great pleasure to talk to and listen to. I’m very sorry she’s gone.”

Rasky began her journalism career in Washington at the Bureau of National Affairs, covering economic policy; five years later she moved to Reuters, where she reported from Capitol Hill and the White House. In 1984, she joined The New York Times, where she worked as an editor and reporter in both New York and Washington. Ultimately, she became the Congressional correspondent for the Times.

In 1991, Rasky returned to Berkeley to teach journalism, at first in a temporary capacity and eventually as a full-time senior lecturer. Within three months of her arrival, she was notified that she had won a George Polk Award for national reporting, among the most prestigious prizes in journalism, for work she had done the previous year.

The awards committee cited Rasky and her colleague David Rosenbaum for “meticulously and insightfully” covering the “greatest budget debate that has ever taken place in the United States.”

Moving effortlessly from the newsroom to the classroom, Rasky left an enduring imprint on a generation of students. In her years at Berkeley, she specialized in teaching political and government reporting  — the foundational courses of the school since it began 20 years earlier.

Rasky was “the most profound influence of my career,” said John Myers, who graduated in 1995 and now is political editor of the ABC affiliate in Sacramento. “Susan became a guiding force in my professional life in August 1993 and never wavered in her willingness to advise, promote and tutor my work as a political reporter.”

Myers recalled how her former students referred to themselves as “Rasky-ites.” Political scientist Bruce Cain, a former Berkeley professor now teaching at Stanford, recalled a different nickname — “Raskyfarians” — because “she so successfully imparted her own tenacious political reporting style and they were so devoted to her.”

While teaching, Rasky delighted in writing about arcane, political tactics as well as big policy issues. She continued to report for a number of outlets, including the Los Angeles Times, the California Journal, the Sacramento Bee and National Public Radio.

“She was a great reporter,” recalled Peter Schrag, retired editorial-page editor of the Sacramento Bee. “I was close to things in Sacramento for 20 years, but I learned a helluva lot from her about the things I thought I already knew. I think between her reporting and her students, to whom she devoted endless amounts of time and, I think, real love, she must have worked 18 hours a day.”

Rasky is survived by her mother, Evelyn, and her brother, Louis.

A funeral service will be held at 1:30 p.m., Sunday, Jan. 5 at the Fernwood Cemetery chapel, 301 Tennessee Valley Road, Mill Valley. A memorial service will be held on the Berkeley campus later in the winter.

Those wishing to make a contribution in Rasky’s memory are encouraged to send checks made out to the UC Regents, earmarking the funds for the Susan Rasky Scholarship Fund for Journalistic Excellence, at the Graduate School of Journalism, 121 North Gate Hall, UC Berkeley, Berkeley, CA 94720-5860.

This piece was written by Tom Goldstein and Robert Gunnison, former dean and former director of school affairs, respectively, at the Graduate School of Journalism.