Carson taught and graduated from the UA School of Journalism. He led the department from 1978 to 1985.

Donald W. Carson, a longtime journalist who championed integrating newsrooms and influenced hundreds of students at the University of Arizona, died Thursday night. He was 85.

Carson, who was in hospice care and surrounded by his family, died following multiple health complications, said his daughter Susan Cormier.

“My father was the most loving, giving and wonderful man who was a mentor to many people, not only his children and students, but even the young members of the staff at Amber Lights where he lived,” said Cormier.

“As early as the 1970s, Don recognized the need to more fully integrate America’s newsrooms with people of all backgrounds,” said Frank Sotomayor, who worked at the Los Angeles Times for 35 years and was a co-editor of “Southern California’s Latino Community,” which won a 1984 Pulitzer Prize for meritorious public service.

Sotomayor also praised Carson for taking a leading role in fighting the 1994 plan by then UA President Manuel Pacheco to eliminate the journalism department in a cost-saving move. “Don had a large group of ex-students and friends who loved him and whom he energized to successfully stave off elimination of the journalism program, which has thrived since then,” said Sotomayor.

“I wouldn’t have been a journalist without Don Carson,” said Nancy Cleeland, a 1976 UA journalism graduate who was a lead reporter at the Los Angeles Times on “The Walmart Effect” series, which won a 2004 Pulitzer Prize. The series showed how lower retail prices had impacted international labor practices.

Cleeland said Carson inspired confidence in her. “That’s why he was the first person I called when I found out a project I’d worked on won a Pulitzer. He was more responsible for that than anyone,” said Cleeland. “His legacy is a generation of inspired reporting.”

Carson, a professor emeritus, taught journalism at the UA from 1966 to 1967 and 1968 to 1997. He served as head of the journalism department from 1978 to 1985.

He was a native Tucsonan who was born Jan. 13, 1933, and a graduate of Tucson High School. He went on to the UA and received a bachelor’s in journalism in 1954.

Carson, who was bilingual, was a former reporter, copy editor and associate editor of the Arizona Daily Star. He also was a writing coach, and in the 1980s, while on sabbatical from the UA after winning Fulbright teaching awards, he traveled and wrote stories about Mexico, Ecuador and Chile. He also was lecturing Latin American journalists.

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He co-authored a biography, published in 2001 with friend and fellow journalism professor James W. Johnson on Arizona Congressman Morris K. Udall.

In April, Carson was to be inducted into the UA School of Journalism’s Hall of Fame. Carson was recognized for “unprecedented contributions” to integrate newsrooms by the National Association of Hispanic Journalists and other media organizations, said Richard Gilman, former publisher of the Boston Globe and one of Carson’s former students.

In 1991, Carson was honored by the National Conference of Editorial Writers Foundation with the Barry Bingham Sr. Fellowship for helping desegregate the newsrooms of daily newspapers in the nation, according to a Star article.

He began recruiting minority students in the early 1970s and helped establish summer workshops for high school students that began in 1980. Minority enrollment at the UA’s journalism department increased from less than 5 percent to 17 percent with Carson’s efforts at the time.

He was married for 61 years to Helen, who died in 2016. He is survived by his three children, Theresa Fortney, Mike Carson and Cormier, five grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.

An 11 a.m. service is set for Feb. 23 at St. Odilia Catholic Church, 7570 N. Paseo del Norte. A celebration of life will follow at 1 p.m. at Hacienda del Sol, 5501 N. Hacienda del Sol Road.

Contact reporter Carmen Duarte at or 573-4104. On Twitter: @cduartestar


Carmen started at the Star in 1981 and covers the aging population. She wrote “Mama’s Santos: An Arizona Life”, a book about the Mexican and Mexican-American experience in the Southwest through stories about her family. It won 11 awards.