Joseph Mehan

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Mehan, Joseph A.
Joseph Albert Martin Mehan - Stamford Native
April 29, 1929 - December 18, 2013 Journalist / Diplomat / Human Rights Advocate / Professor Championed the slogan "A mind is a terrible thing to waste" as Director of Communications for the United Negro College Fund. Stamford High School "Wall of Fame" Inductee. Joseph A. Mehan passed away peacefully at home while holding the hand of his loving wife Margaret "Peggy" Mehan, he was 84. Born in Stamford on April 29, 1929, to Frank and Anna Mehan, Mr. Mehan was a proud long-time Stamford resident and native. He is pre-deceased by his brother and only sibling, Mathew Mehan. He leaves behind his wife Peggy, four sons, Jeff and Michael Mehan of Stamford, David Mehan of Durango, Colorado and Christopher Mehan of Darien, CT, their wives, two step-children, Katherine Stansmore-Heckscher of Westwood, MA and Thomas Stansmore of St. Petersburg, Russia, as well as ten grandchildren. Mr. Mehan was a resident of Fort Myers, Florida at his death. Mr. Mehan's professional career began as a reporter after the Korean War, first for the Stamford Advocate, then for The Newark Star Ledger and the Dallas Morning News. In 1957 , he joined NBC News as a writer, including for the early days of the Today Show, field producer, covering such historic events as the Kennedy assassinations, Civil Rights movement in the U.S. South, the Mercury, Gemini and Apollo space missions, and political conventions, including the 1968 Democratic convention in Chicago with the bloody anti-Vietnam War Grant Park riots. He was also involved producing documentaries, including pieces on the 25th anniversaries of Pearl Harbor and the Battle of the Bulge. During his years at NBC he was awarded Peabody, Ohio State, Writers Guild and CINE awards for his documentaries and reporting. Mr. Mehan left NBC after 14 years, joining the United Negro College Fund (UNCF) in 1971 as Communications Director. He wrote and produced short public service TV documentaries to raise the profile of the UNCF in the mainstream media and in American society as a whole. Filmed on UNCF college campuses, these featured hosts such as then U.S. Secretary of State Cyrus Vance, then Harvard President Derek Bok, Edwin Newman of NBC News, sports luminaries Hank Aaron and Arthur Ashe, and music legend Ray Charles. These short public awareness messages lead to the national promotional campaign he directed with its now famous supporting slogan "A mind is a Terrible Thing to Waste". "PR News", the Bible of the Advertising Industry, wrote a laudatory article about the TV spots he was producing. The article led the Advertising Council to name the UNCF, its only black campaign, a Major Campaign, and to appoint Young & Rubicam as voluntary agency charged with developing a slogan to distinguish the UNCF. After rejecting Young and Rubicam's initial suggestion, "A Mind is a Helluva Thing to Waste" as being off-color and inappropriate for association with UNCF, he recommended approval of the word "Terrible" to replace "Helluva." With that, "A MIND IS A TERRIBLE THING TO WASTE" was born. This became one of the most successful slogans in advertising history, and has helped the UNCF make education possible for hundreds of thousands of students.
In 1978, Mr. Mehan moved to the United Nations as the Director of Communications for the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) Liaison office. UNESCO and its parent body, the United Nations, were launching a campaign based on its international treatise, "The New World Information and Communications Order" to create a "level playing field for international communications systems and media operations." Poorer nations claimed that Western Media dominated the world's traffic in news and global communications systems. UNESCO led an effort by these nations to request technological help and global rules to allow them to compete against a Western press, led by the United States, which opposed their efforts. Mr. Mehan supported the UN in its difficult task as its North American liaison on this issue for 12 years representing UNESCO at the United Nations General Assembly and before the world press. Mr. Mehan retired from the UN in 1990, becoming an Adjunct Professor of International Communications at Columbia University's Graduate School of International and Political Affairs. For ten years he taught graduate seminars on the on the impact of technological advances in communications and media on government, politics, business, medicine, and almost every other aspect of 21st Century living. Mr. Mehan also played pivotal roles in the Stamford human rights movement and community. In 1961 he founded the first Catholic Interracial Council in Connecticut, in Stamford, leading Bishop Curtis to ask Mr. Mehan to found a Diocese-wide Human Rights Commission. Mr. Mehan was given the Catholic Interracial Council's Father John P. McNerney Award in 1963 for outstanding achievements in interracial work. Mr. Mehan, a Democrat, was appointed to the first Stamford Human Rights Commission by a Republican Mayor and was appointed Chairman of the Citizen's Blue Ribbon Committee selected to resolve the divisive issue of achieving racial balance among students attending the new Rippowam High School. (Another member of this committee was Mr. Mehan's friend and neighbor, Jackie Robinson). This Commission marked the beginning of school integration in Stamford. Recognizing a need for affordable housing in Stamford, Mr. Mehan Co-Founded New Neighborhoods Inc., which builds affordable housing, and was a founder of The Emmaus Community, an experimental non-territorial progressive Catholic parish. Although he had received many journalism and public service awards, one of his proudest moments was being inducted onto the Stamford High School "Wall of Fame" in 2009. Joe was SHS Class of 1946, Editor of the SHS yearbook the Siren, Captain of the Tennis team, and a class officer. Mr. Mehan was a Graduate of Columbia College and Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism. He served in the Army from 1951-1952, editing a weekly intelligence digest at Army Security Agency headquarters in Tokyo. Mr. Mehan was a lifelong New York Ranger fan and a coach for Stamford Youth Hockey in its first years. He wore his tattered 1970's vintage SYHA Coach jacket up until the day of his death. A visitation is scheduled for Friday January 24, between 4:00 PM and 7:00 PM at Bosak Funeral Home, 453 Shippan Ave, Stamford, CT 06902. A funeral service is scheduled for 10:00 AM on January 25, at St. Catherine of Sienna Catholic Church, 4 Riverside Ave, Riverside, CT 06878. In lieu of flowers, donations can be made in Joseph Mehan's honor to the United Negro College Fund, 1805 7th St. N.W., Washington, D.C. 20001, or to UNESCO at 2 UN Plaza 9th floor, New York, NY 100017.

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Published in StamfordAdvocate on Jan. 5, 2014
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