Remembering David Littlejohn, critic and UC Berkeley journalism professor

David Littlejohn. Photo: courtesy of the family
David Littlejohn, who died on June 4. Photo: courtesy of the family

David Littlejohn, a popular and prolific arts critic, author, former public television host, and a professor emeritus of journalism at the University of California, Berkeley, died peacefully, June 4, at his home in Kensington, California after a long physical decline. He was 78. 

Throughout his career, he wrote a sweeping array of books, novels, and essays, but regarded himself primarily as a critic and teacher.

He taught undergraduate and graduate courses at UC Berkeley from 1963-1998, first in the English Department, then in the Graduate School of Journalism, which he helped guide toward widespread recognition as an elite program with Pulitzer Prize-winning alumni.

Along the way, countless students called him the best teacher they ever had –- brilliant, engaging, wickedly funny, generous, compassionate and encouraging.

In a parallel and symbiotic career, Mr. Littlejohn was “critic at large” for public television station KQED (1965-75), and later, with PBS (NET).” He was arts and culture critic for the Times of London (1975-89) and then the Wall Street Journal (1990-present), with subjects ranging from the Rolling Stones to the Ring Cycle, from Cézanne to Burning Man.

The fact that he was so wide-ranging, both in his intellect and extensive travels, was, in itself, a marvel.  In 1951, at the age of 14, he broke his neck in a diving accident in the Sierras, and was left partly paralyzed. Although it would affect everything he would do, he refused to let the accident define his life. 

David Littlejohn’s many awards included a University of California Distinguished Teacher Award (1985), and a Berkeley Citation (1997) — the university’s equivalent of an honorary degree. From 1996-2009, he served as secretary for the Berkeley Arts Club, a group founded in 1936 by artists and art lovers on the Berkeley faculty.

Mr. Littlejohn, whose great-great-grandfather emigrated to California from Vermont during the Gold Rush in 1850, was born in San Francisco in 1937. He attended Junipero Serra High School in San Mateo, and graduated from the University of California, Berkeley in 1959. He received his Ph.D. from Harvard in 1963, and within a month, married the former Sheila Hageman of London, who would remain the great love of his life. Sheila Littlejohn died in 2009.

Mr. Littlejohn is survived by his daughter, Victoria Littlejohn of Burbank, California, son, Gregory Littlejohn of Nevada City, California, as well as three grandchildren, a brother and three sisters. He asked that there be no funeral or memorial service, but provided for a party to be held at his home in Kensington, California.

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