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URI journalism professor, Providence Journal reporter passes away at 60 after battle with cancer

By Nancy Lavin
On April 4, 2012

  • Peter Lord, 60, passed away yesterday. He was a beloved professor in the journalism department and environmental reporter for The Providence Journal. Courtesy of the University of Rhode Island website

University of Rhode Island journalism professor and award-winning environmental journalist for The Providence Journal Peter Lord passed away Wednesday after a long struggle with cancer. He was 60 years old.

At URI, Lord served as the journalism director for the Metcalf Institute for Marine and Environmental Journalism, as well as an adjunct professor in the journalism department, teaching classes including Media Writing, Public Affairs Reporting Magazine Article and Feature Writing.

"Mr. Lord taught journalism classes at URI for about 12 years and he was deeply loved by his students" said Linda Levin, journalism professor and former chair of the journalism department. "He brought years of experience as a reporter into the classroom and helped the students learn in a way that was both fun and useful."

Lord created a national presence for himself as an environmental reporter for The Providence Journal, covering stories on oil spills, climate change and even journeying to The Arctic Circle, according to a Providence Journal report. Just last week, Lord was honored by the Rhode Island Natural History Survey as one its 2012 Distinguished Naturalists for his lifelong commitment to environmental causes.

Lord also spent one year teaching full-time from during the 1988-89 academic year on a URI Freedom Forum grant. During this year, he taught many of the same classes he taught as an adjunct, as well as environmental reporting.

"After he finished the year on our staff, we brought him back and all the time I was chair, I tried to get him teach every semester," Levin said.

Several journalism students echoed this praise for Lord's teaching style, remembering him as one of the "stand-out" professors in the department.

"He basically taught me everything I know about feature writing and showed me what direction

I want to go into in journalism," said Farah Casalini, a senior journalism major who took Lord's Feature Writing class last spring. "He really pushed me. I remember he gave be the first B I ever received on a writing assignment."

Senior Greg Gentile added that Lord's quirky personality made him memorable as well.

"He opened his class with showing us some of the work he did with the projo, and I remember thinking, 'this man is odd,'" he said. "What the hell am I going to get from this man who writes about burning mattresses and ducks in Alaska?"

Many students agreed that Lord's creative, casual style in the classroom made them feel at ease and eager to improve their writing skills. Gentile also said that Lord made a special effort to mentor his students and "take us under his wing."

"He made us read our writing out loud, which is nerve racking to people who had never done it," he said. "But he would always tell you 'that is publishable' or 'keep working on that,' always giving us a chance to redo work and make it the best it could be."

About five years ago, Lord went back to school to receive a master's degree in Marine Affairs at

URI, according to Levin. He continued teaching one course per semester and working full-time at The Providence Journal until taking medical leave for his illness.

Joshua Aromin, a full-time editorial assistant at Rhode Island Monthly who graduates this May, credited Lord with leading him to a career in magazine writing.

"His magazine and feature writing class led me toward a career working in magazines," he said. "Without his unique style of teaching and approachable demeanor, I'm unsure if I would be where I am today."

Graduate Brenna McCabe, class of 2009, who now works as a publicist for the State Legislative Press Bureau, echoed this sentiment.

"He's one of the reasons many of us continued to pursue careers in journalism when the world was constantly telling us to turn back and run for the hills," she said. "We knew that if we could achieve the happiness he clearly felt in his profession, we, too, could look back on our careers with appreciation and satisfaction."

McCabe added that Lord will remain one of the most important mentors of her college experience, and wished other students could share in his passion for journalism.

"What disheartens me the most about his death is that other students won't get to benefit from his inspirational teaching," she said.

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