Journalism professor dies from cancer

Victoria Bresnahan and Southern News staff

On Saturday, Dec. 29, former and present members of the Southern News lost not only a professor, but a friend. Professor Williams, or fondly referred to as Vern amongst staffers, passed away from cancer after a few short months.

His bluntness, humor and teaching style were pieces that encouraged all of us to become editors at the Southern News.

Prior to becoming news editor, I took Vern’s JRN 306 course, digital news design. I recall him always asking his students how they were when they walked into class. We were equals, never just college students.

This past fall semester, I walked by him in the hallway— after publishing what I thought was a great front page— and being critiqued for my layout choices. For him, perfection was not the goal, but rather it was about creating a great piece of journalistic art.

Vern was one of the many journalism professors who inspired me to reach for more and apply for this position. It was a pleasure to have been his student.

Here are what other Southern News staff members had to say about him:

“Vern Williams turned a simple tier one elective into two jobs and a minor for me. When I made my first semester sophomore schedule, I selected digital media skills, purely because it sounded like it would fit into my interests as a graphic design major.

As soon as the first class ended, I knew Vern would be one of my favorite and most influential  professors.

He was laid back, treated every student with kindness and respect, and was incredibly passionate and knowledgeable about journalistic design and photography. He taught some of the more mundane aspects of design, such as what grid to use on a page, in ways that were engaging and fun—a feat not all my professors have accomplished.

Vern and I immediately bonded over our similar personalities and shared passion for design. Since then, I have become the co-layout editor for Crescent magazine, layout editor for the Southern News, a journalism minor, and I have made numerous friends in the journalism department. I enjoyed every moment I had with Vern, and he truly shaped my life for the better. Vern will be missed, but his influence and legacy will live on at Southern for a long time; take me as an example.”- Sam Fix, Layout Editor

“He was foremost a friend to me, during these four semesters, but a professor and mentor nonetheless.

Constantly, he provided me with the tools, knowledge and attitude to become the kind of photographer and journalist he knew I could be; the kind he was. About my professor at the dinner table, who was notably relaxed and easy to approach.

I am sure that I would not be the co-editor in chief of Crescent magazine or the photo editor for Southern News if I had never met Vern.

I confided in him during times of adversity, along the course of my studies, and he always gave me the fresh perspective I needed to keep going forward. I hope to be the mentor to somebody, some day that he was to me.”- August Pelliccio, Photo Editor

“Being a late transfer into the journalism department, I only knew Prof. Williams for a short time. However, anyone who knew him would agree that it only took five minutes to understand how truly genuine of a person he was. I had just one class with Prof. Williams but we worked closely on improving the overall design of the Southern News.

The friendly and warmhearted personality of Prof. Williams made me feel as if I had known him for years. He was a man who always had a smile on his face and never failed to put a smile on others. Prof. Williams was a great teacher and friend. I believe I speak for the whole journalism department and Southern News staff, past and present, when I say he will be deeply missed but forever in our hearts and memories.”- Kevin Crompton, Editor in Chief

“Vern was exceptionally talented at bringing out the best in people. He homed in on people’s strengths and enjoyed the process of teaching young minds. He was one of the first people to believe in my ability to succeed here. He was a dedicated, passionate and
innovative member of my school’s community and throughout Connecticut. Thank you, Vern.” –Amanda Cavoto, Arts & Entertainment Editor

“I met Vern my freshman year and he was my first journalism professor for JRN 135. He was always so nice and helpful. He and I had several industry chats, as well. He was just a great individual who is already severely missed throughout the community.”- Matt Gad, Sports Writer

“The first time I had been exposed to a journalism class, was in Professor Williams’ JRN 135 class. I remember thinking during his class, ‘here’s someone who is truly passionate about his craft and knows what he’s talking about.’ I never thought how much time, precision, work and enjoyment can be found in creating a page; there is nothing simple about it. It is an art. It is something, that thanks to Vern I can – at an amateur level – do. If I can be half as passionate about whatever I do in life as Vern Williams was for fonts, lines, graphics, alignment, and teaching, I’ll be happy.” – Tamonda Griffiths, News Writer

“Professor Williams has been my adviser the whole time I have been at Southern. He was a really great man who gave me input on my future here. He was the deciding voice in keeping journalism as my major when I was questioning staying or not. I valued his input as a professor and a friend, and I am very grateful for him to have been a part of my Southern career and my life. I will miss him, thank you Professor Williams.” – Alexandra Scicchitano, Online Editor

“Professor Williams was the first professor I had when starting off as a journalism major. What stood out the most about him was he would always make an effort to say hello or ask me how I was when he’d see me.

In one class I had with him, I was struggling to understand simple things such as camera settings. I was a little embarrassed that I was struggling with basic material and did not want to speak up in front of the class. He recognized this and came up to me after class and stayed late until he was confident I knew what to do.

I was always appreciative that he would say hello to me, and will always appreciate how he waited after class to help me. I feel this shows his true character and that he cared about each of his students.”- Michael Riccio, Managing Editor

“My long time adviser and professor Vern Williams was not your everyday instructor. He had an aura about him that made you feel as if he fully believed in you.

I took over four classes with him and in that whole time I never once saw him in a bad mood. His famed coffee cup in hand, smile on his face, be it morning or night–he was excited to teach his craft.

I hate that I have to write in the past tense. He was not someone you can sum up in a few hundred words. He was kind. He was funny. He was a talented photographer. I’m sure he is getting some great angles up there. To his family, I wish the best in a difficult time, and for myself I can only take comfort in that the last time we spoke before winter break he said, ‘See you soon, oh, and have a great holiday, I can’t wait for Christmas.’ If nothing else, I am glad he got his Christmas.”-Jenna Stepleman, former photographer.

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