Former UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism professor Bernard Taper, who previously worked at The New Yorker and as one of the Monuments Men after World War II, died Oct. 17 of a bacterial infection. He was 98.
Taper began teaching at UC Berkeley in 1970, two years after the Graduate School of Journalism was refounded, according to former journalism school professor Andrew Stern.
“He was an exceedingly kind, generous and accomplished professor and journalist,” said Tom Goldstein, Taper’s colleague, who was the dean of the journalism school from 1988 to 1996.
Goldstein said Taper spent an enormous amount of time with his students. Taper taught a profile writing class and would play tennis with his colleagues and students regularly, according to Stern.
Goldstein, now a professor at the journalism school, recalls meeting Taper for lunch close to 10 years ago when Taper brought up tennis again.
“(Taper) was shaking his head and he said, ‘I can’t play tennis anymore because all my partners are gone,’ ” Goldstein said. “Up until he was 88 and 89, he was extremely active — then he had a decline.”
Taper’s son Mark Taper said Taper was admitted to the hospital two weeks earlier of endocarditis, a bacterial infection in the heart. While Bernard’s death was sudden, Mark explained, it did not come as a surprise because Bernard was 98 years old.
Mark remembered his father as “wacky” and added that while Bernard took his work seriously, he didn’t take himself too seriously — there always seemed to be a joke on the tip of his tongue. As a child, Mark said he got to meet many interesting people just by tagging along with his father, who was always happy to bring his children along.
“He was a really good father,” Mark said. “He had incredibly a good and full life … He died quickly, so there is a sense of loss but there’s not much sadness. My attitude is that I should be so lucky.”
According to Mark, many of Bernard’s former students say after graduating that Bernard’s instruction to them was key in their journalistic careers. Goldstein said whenever he attends an alumni event, former colleagues and students always ask about Bernard and can recount fond memories of him.
Marilyn Chase, a lecturer at the journalism school, noted that one of Taper’s greatest accomplishments was his biography of George Balanchine, one of the founders of the New York City Ballet.
“Even though he was most famous about his long profile and his book (on Balanchine), he brought the same attention, the same artistic eye to the simplest news story,” Chase said. “He had a painter’s eye when it came to student’s prose, and we had the benefit of that.”
Chase said Taper inspired her to pursue journalism, write books and teach — a career balance which she described as beautiful.
Harvey Myman, a partner in Element 8 Entertainment, explained that a lot of the students at the journalism school were very comfortable with Taper as a professor and would casually call him “Taper.”
“As a teacher, your greatest accomplishments are the success of what your students go out and do,” Myman said. “A lot of his students pass through his classroom and went on to be great writers and reporters.”
Both Myman and Chase said Taper seldom brought up the fact that he was one of the Monuments Men, a group working in the U.S. army during World War II that interrogated Nazis and tracked down art that was looted. Mark said this humble behavior was typical of his father. He added that Bernard had no background in art when he was selected as a Monuments man.
“He basically faked his way through life. He was never prepared or educated for anything he ever took on, but he didn’t let that get in his way of saying ‘yes,’ ” Mark said. “If you’re looking to get something accomplished, never settle for something you know you can do. That’s the way he lived and I’ve picked that up.”