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The Daily Tar Heel

Friends Praise Life of Professor

Family, friends, colleagues, neighbors and students gathered in 111 Carroll Hall to celebrate the life and achievements of Bittner, who died April 9 at age 58.

"(Bittner) was an elegant writer and an insightful scholar," said journalism Professor Don Shaw, who shared his remarks and two poems via video.

Bittner was the School of Journalism and Mass Communication's James H. Shumaker Term Professor, as well as head of the electronic communication sequence in the journalism school.

In total, Bittner devoted 22 years of his life to the University, said Richard Cole, dean of the journalism school.

"He loved teaching, and he was rewarded for teaching excellence several times," Cole said.

Other speakers praised Bittner's more personal qualities.

Beverly Long, a communication studies professor, said Bittner was a faithful friend who always praised her accomplishments and knew how to comfort others.

"John Bittner had a marvelous habit of making people feel special," Long said. "When he walked into a room, it was a moment of affirmation."

In recounting memories of Bittner, speakers focused mainly on his love for family, his fascination with writer Ernest Hemingway and his enthusiasm for teaching and the University.

"John loved everything about the University of North Carolina," said his father-in-law, Jim Alexander, adding that Bittner praised every department and everyone he knew who was associated with the University.

Former men's basketball coach Bill Guthridge addressed Bittner's contribution to the basketball program.

"He was a great friend of mine and of Carolina basketball," said Guthridge, who now serves as a special assistant to Director of Athletics Dick Baddour.

Every fall, Bittner spent time teaching basketball players how to be interviewed and other public relations techniques. "I knew he was an outstanding teacher because I saw him in action," Guthridge said.

In honor of Bittner's passion for Hemingway, English Professor Joe Flora talked about Bittner's activism in the Hemingway Society, and other speakers quoted the famed author in their remarks.

Most speakers also addressed Bittner's commitment to family, especially his wife, Denise, who was his "angel," Harris said.

Colleagues said Bittner fiercely battled cancer during his final year but did so with dignity.

"We recognize not only his determination to fight for life but also the dignity of that fight," Flora said.

He said Bittner waited for his luck to change, and when it didn't, "he bowed with exemplary grace," Flora added.

Journalism Professor Richard Simpson said Bittner's final days were indicative of his character.

"In his brave dying, he was the epitome of grace under pressure," Simpson said while holding back tears.

"I shall miss him."

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