Remembering Elaine Rivera: Lehman to Host Memorial Service on December 7

Elaine Rivera, a member of the faculty in the Journalism, Communication, and Theatre Department, passed on October 26. She was 54. A memorial service is scheduled for Saturday, December 7 at 1 p.m. in Lehman’s Lovinger Theatre.

Rivera joined the faculty at Lehman College in 2009 as a substitute lecturer, bringing nearly thirty years of experience at top news organizations around the country, including Time magazine, the Washington Post, and WNYC Radio. One year after joining Lehman, she was promoted to the rank of Distinguished Lecturer. Her experience covering Spanish-speaking urban communities, her national reputation, and her manifold connections in the New York media industry made her a valuable resource in helping students find career opportunities and in recruiting new students to the profession.

She also oversaw the conversion of the Bronx Journal from a print to a multimedia format, which won the City University of New York’s 2011 Murray Kempton Award for Journalism in the ‘Best Web Publication’ category. Rivera continued to serve as co-editor of the Bronx Journal.

“Elaine had a profound professional knowledge and a unique rapport with the students,” said Patricio Lerzundi, Chair of the Department of Journalism, Communication, and Theatre. “Her loss is not just to Lehman and journalism, but to her many friends and colleagues, and especially to her students.”

Christine McKenna, her co-editor at the Bronx Journal, said Rivera’s passing is devastating to all who knew her.

“She was loved for her warmth, wisdom, and wry wit,” said McKenna. “She was a compassionate mentor to her students, whom she advised to view the world – and the media – with a skeptical eye. She encouraged students to question stories in the press that perpetuated negative stereotypes and to form their own opinions.”

WNYC radio, where Rivera worked just prior to joining Lehman College, posted a tribute to her life and work:

Evelyn Hernandez, a longtime friend, confirmed her death and said friends found her Saturday. The cause is unknown, Hernandez said, but it came after a battle with liver disease.

“Elaine Rivera had an enormous heart and a commitment to social justice that was reflected in her illuminating journalism,” Hernandez said in an e-mail. “Her voice will be greatly missed.”

Rivera came to WNYC after a celebrated career in print journalism at Time magazine and other publications. She spent much of her time at the station covering Eliot Spitzer’s race for the New York governor’s office in 2006 and Hillary Clinton’s failed presidential campaign in 2008. She also reported from the Democratic National Convention that year in Denver. But she was best known, both inside and outside of WNYC, for her street-level reporting and her intimate knowledge of Bronx politics.

She left WNYC in 2009 to teach journalism at Lehman College in the Bronx, part of the City University of New York, where she was on a leave of absence at the time of her death.

“She could walk the halls of Albany or City Hall and get politicians to open up,” WNYC’s Enterprise Editor Karen Frillmann said. “But she was most interested talking to the people who live and die by what happens in the halls of power. Prison reform, teen suicide, domestic abuse were some of the topics she covered. She was passionate, smart and had a wicked sense of humor.”

Additional tributes were posted by the Wall Street Journal, Newsday, Cleveland Plain Dealer, Voices of NY, and former colleague Bob Liff at the Huffington Post.

Rivera was also remembered by Justice Sonia Sotomayor of the U.S. Supreme Court, with whom she had a  long friendship. In a letter of condolence to Juan Rivera, Justice Sotomayor writes that Rivera was an extraordinarily talented journalist and an amazing person. “There are few words that I can say to ease your loss,” she wrote. “I can only tell you that Elain’e caring for others and deep devotion to giving voice to the marginalized will keep her memory alive and vibrant.”

A Bronx resident, Rivera was a fountain of story ideas for her students and a source of levity for her colleagues.

“I came to Lehman because of Elaine. We shared an office and she always made me laugh,” McKenna continued. “She would sit across from me, rolling her eyes at the latest password she had to memorize. Or pointing out another abuse of power. At times, she could be goofy. She was always endearing and supportive. She gave a lot to those around her and for that she will be deeply missed.”

Friends and family have established the Elaine Rivera Memorial Scholarship at Lehman College, a needs-based scholarship to provide funding for a journalism student. Anyone interested in supporting the scholarship can contact the Office of Institutional Advancement.