UF College of Journalism And Communications Founder Rae Weimer Dies At Age 93
GAINESVILLE — When Rae O. Weimer came to the University of Florida in 1949 to lead the Florida’s first journalism school, he arrived without a college degree or any professional teaching experience.
He had little to start with, but when he died at home Thursday at age 93, he left much behind. He worked at UF for 25 years, earned an honorary doctorate and was an untiring contributor to the Gainesville community.
“Rae Weimer proved that vision, inspiration, hard work and creativity can invent significant institutions and have a tremendous impact on the lives of generations,” UF President John Lombardi said Friday. “His College of Journalism and Communications stands as a living testimony to his determination and creativity, and generations of Floridians benefit from the inspiration and work that he devoted to this college, this university and this state.”
Much has changed at UF since Weimer was enticed here after 25 years of reporting and editing at newspapers throughout the country.
Then-UF President J. Hillis Miller hired Weimer after Florida newspaper officials demanded someone with journalism experience to lead the new School of Journalism.
When he began his career in academia in 1949, he had just finished a stint as managing editor of New York’s PM, an innovative daily newspaper with no advertising that survived for eight years.
Weimer’s task was great. He had three faculty members, and before they could begin teaching, they had to shore up the floor of their barracks to keep the floors from collapsing. There was one office, one dictionary, no typewriters and 60 students.
He became the first and only director of the school, and later the founding dean when UF’s College of Journalism and Communications was created in 1967. The building was named in his honor in 1981.
When he retired as dean, the success of the college was well-known and attributed to Weimer and John Paul Jones, a faculty member who worked closely with Weimer before becoming the college’s second dean.
The college had 680 students, the second-largest in the United States. Weimer had become a pioneer in journalism, establishing television and radio stations on campus, building a faculty of 40 and creating a college that has been fully accredited and acknowledged nationally as being one of the best in the country.
With the founding of UF’s television station, WUFT, Weimer became the father of educational television in Florida, which resulted in the development of public broadcasting in Florida.
“His impact on Florida journalism was probably greater than any other person,” said Hugh Cunningham, a family friend who joined the faculty in 1955. “The products of his school allowed for the tremendous growth of newspapers in Florida, both in terms of quantity and quality.”
When Weimer left the college, he moved to the president’s office and spent five years as UF President Stephen C. O’Connell’s special assistant.
“Rae Weimer was a unique person — one who, without a college degree, founded and directed the College of Journalism into national prominence,” O’Connell said Friday. “When he retired as dean, he joined my office handling media relations in his usual superb manner. We became fast friends. His influence will be felt long after his passing.”
UF honored Weimer with an honorary doctor of letters degree in 1974, shortly after Weimer officially retired. When his wife, Ruth, died in 1979, a large display case for the college’s many trophies was dedicated in her memory.
Weimer later married his second wife, Wilma, and continued his service to the community. He was a member, director or chairman of just about every professional or civic board in Gainesville. He’s listed in Who’s Who in America, has been a legislative consultant and has received at least three citations from Florida governors for his service.
He co-founded the Retired Faculty of the University of Florida and was the organization’s first president. He led the effort to convert the county-owned Alachua General Hospital into a non-profit corporation, and then served on the board of directors for years.
“Rae Weimer, in everything he did in life, he did because he loved people and was carrying out God’s command to love people,” Cunningham said. “This was important to Rae. That was his basis for his outstanding love for humanity. He loved everybody and everybody loved him.”
He is survived by wife Wilma, son Navy Chaplain Capt. Rae “Bill” Weimer Jr. and daughter Dr. Ann Moxley.
In lieu of flowers, the family has requested that donations be made to either the Rae Weimer scholarship fund in the College of Journalism and Communications or to the First Presbyterian Church in Gainesville.
Memorial services will be Monday at 2 p.m. at the First Presbyterian Church.