In Memoriam: Dr. Paul Heyer, Media Historian & Media Ecologist

29Aug18

I first met Paul Heyer in 2004 at the Media Ecology Association’s annual convention at the Rochester Institute of Technology. He suggested that I apply to teach some courses in communication at Wilfrid Laurier University, which I did a few years later. While there I enjoyed talking to him about our common interests in Marshall McLuhan, Harold Innis, Orson Welles and the Titanic. I later reviewed his excellent study of the Titanic myth and its subsequent representation in many media forms for Explorations in Media Ecology,12 (1&2), pp. 137-143. He was a generous colleague, friend and excellent scholar and he will be sorely missed. Rest in peace.

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Paul Heyer, who passed away about a week ago, was a polymath, earning degrees in geography (BA, Concordia), sociology (MA, New School) and an MPhil and PhD in anthropology from Rutgers University before going on to make significant contributions to communication studies. He taught at in Communication Departments at Simon Fraser University, McGill University, and Concordia University, spending the major part of his career at Wilfrid Laurier University in Waterloo, Ontario, Canada since January 2001.

His published research includes the most widely-adopted introductory media history textbook in North America (7 editions to date), significant studies of Harold Innis, the tragedy of the Titanic and how it has been mythologized in media, and Orson Welles’s radio dramatizations. In addition, Heyer has published work on digital cinema and opera, the legacy of Marshall McLuhan and taught courses on film comedy, non-verbal communication, the culture of the 1950s, and radio, among many, many others. Just this summer his magnum opus on desert island narratives, Islands in the Screen: From Robinson Crusoe to Lost, was submitted for publication and is expected to be published posthumously. His published books include:                                                                             

  • Crowley, David, Urquhart, Peter, and Paul Heyer. Communication in History: Stone Age Symbols to Social Media. Routledge, 2018.
  • Crowley, David and Paul Heyer. Communication in History: Technology, Culture, Society. Sixth edition. New York: Routledge, 2016. [6 editions]
  • Buxton Bill, Cheney Michael, and Paul Heyer, eds. Harold Innis Reflects: Memoir and WWI Writings/Correspondence. Boulder, CO: Rowman & Littlefield, 2016.
  • Buxton, Bill, Cheney Michael, and Paul Heyer, eds. Harold Innis’s History of Communications. Boulder, CO: Rowman & Littlefield, 2015.
  • Heyer, Paul. Titanic Century: Media, Myth, and the Making of a Cultural Icon. Second edition. Westport, CT: Praeger, 2012.
  • Heyer, Paul. The Medium and the Magician: Orson Welles, the Radio Years. Boulder, CO: Rowman & Littlefield, 2005.
  • Heyer, Paul. Harold Innis. Boulder, CO: Rowman & Littlefield, 2003.
  • Heyer, Paul. Communications and History. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1988.

In addition, Heyer published work on digital cinema and opera, the legacy of Marshall McLuhan and taught courses on film comedy, non-verbal communication, the culture of the 1950s, and radio, among many, many others. Just this summer his magnum opus on desert island narratives, Islands in the Screen: From Robinson Crusoe to Lost, was submitted for publication and is expected to be published posthumously.

As well as a highly accomplished scholar and popular undergraduate teacher, Heyer was a beloved and extraordinarily generous colleague and mentor. Perhaps his greatest contribution, though, was to graduate student teaching, supervising and mentorship. Over his career, Heyer supervised dozens of students to MA and PhD degrees and was instrumental in establishing the MA program in Communication Studies at Wilfrid Laurier, where he was a fixture, teaching the required seminar, even after his retirement in 2016.

Heyer’s pursuits outside of academic life were as eclectic and passionate as those inside. He was an avid cyclist and archer, an extremely accomplished long-distance runner, completing several marathons, including Boston and New York, in the ridiculously fast time of under 2:40, an excellent trumpet and trombone player, had an encyclopedic knowledge of baseball history, was a published poet and was an enthusiastic follower of less high-profile sports such as Australian Rules Football and track-and-field.

Last summer, Heyer received the Media Ecology Association’s Walter J. Ong Award for Career Achievement in Scholarship in San Francisco. His response to the award illustrates both his humility about his accomplishments and their extraordinarily broad range:

“This came as a complete surprise — I would never regard myself as having the kind of unified body of scholarship that would merit such an award,” said Heyer. “In generously acknowledging the breadth of my work, I thank the MEA for thinking otherwise.” (source https://goo.gl/4o6Psw)

Paul Heyer addressing convention delegates at the MEA Convention in 2017 in San Francisco


One Response to “In Memoriam: Dr. Paul Heyer, Media Historian & Media Ecologist”

  1. 1 Gig

    I have known Paul since the early 60s when we were in Dunton High School together, at the east end of Montreal. I was known as the Gig to our small circle of friends, among which were Robert Walker and Peter Leech. Paul always flew under the radar in academics and sports, very likely because he was never one for self appraisal. So, I’m sure it would be a surprise to many, who only knew him casually, what he has achieved in life.
    Most importantly (to me), he was always ready to encourage those around him in sport and academics. This he did in spades with me.

    He encouraged me to take night classes in Concordia U, which I did in Geography (which as you read, was his major) no less. But more personal and lasting to me was getting me into running, and then bicycle road racing.

    I remember the Montreal Marathon where you (and our good friend) waited for me at the end. And you praised me, though my times (around 3:25) were never even close to what you times were.

    Most memorable of all were those bonding training rides around Montreal Island (in the late 70s and early 80s) for the all those 80/20 biathlons and triathlons that we went into together. If you weren’t in them, you were there encouraging, supporting and waiting for me to finish. Loved it and very much appreciated it.

    It saddens me that we lost touch. It could have been different, seeing that we were residing so close by (me in Toronto). There are reasons, but they will be explained the next time we meet, and we will. I’m sure you will be waiting for me and we’ll pick up were we left.


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