Northwestern University will hold a public memorial service for alumnus James Foley, a committed journalist who devoted his life to exposing the turmoil and suffering of those living in dangerous, war-ravaged countries.
Foley’s mother, Diane Foley, and his grandmother, Olga Wright, plan to attend the memorial, which will be held on Thursday, Nov. 20, at 4 p.m. in Alice Millar Chapel, 1870 Sheridan Road on Northwestern’s Evanston campus.
The service is being planned by University Chaplain Rev. Timothy Stevens, Fr. Kevin Feeney, chaplain and director of Northwestern’s Sheil Catholic Center and the Medill School of Journalism, Media, Integrated Marketing Communications.
"This event provides an opportunity for Medill and Northwestern and the larger community to gather in reflection about Jim's life," said Medill Dean Bradley Hamm. "We are honored that his relatives will join us."
Foley, who earned his master’s degree from Medill in 2008, was killed on Aug. 19 by extremists in the Middle East after being held hostage and imprisoned for nearly two years. He was captured while reporting for the international news service GlobalPost and other agencies in November of 2012 in Syria near the border of Turkey.
A New Hampshire native, Foley worked as a teacher after graduating from Marquette University with a bachelor’s degree in history. He also studied writing and received a master’s in fine arts at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. Turning to journalism in his 30s, Foley came to Medill to pursue his master’s in journalism.
From the moment Foley arrived at Medill’s Washington program, it was clear he wanted to be a war correspondent, said one of his former teachers, Ellen Shearer, William F. Thomas Professor at Medill and interim director of Medill’s Washington program.
“He focused on national security because he wanted to tell the stories of the people those policies affect — service members, the people of the countries we send troops to and Americans who foot the bill,” said Shearer, who will speak at Foley’s memorial.
Foley’s 2012 disappearance marked the second time he had been kidnapped. The previous year, he had been captured in Libya and held for 44 days in a Libyan prison. Just two weeks after his release, Foley visited Medill and spoke to students about his experiences in captivity and his previous reporting in Afghanistan.
“Every day I want to go back,” he told the students. “I’m drawn to the front lines.”
Foley is remembered by friends, family and colleagues as a fearless journalist who made friends easily and cared deeply about those marginalized by society. While studying at Northwestern, Foley worked as a language arts teacher at the Cook County’s sheriff’s boot camp, an alternative to prison.
“There was infinitely more to Jim Foley than we at Medill were privileged to share when he was a student or when he returned regularly by Skype or in person to brief students on the perils and personal calling of reporting on the people of Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya and Syria,” said Medill professor Jack Doppelt, one of Foley’s professors.
“When I think about Jim, I think about what it means to care intensely about understanding people and bringing that understanding to others,” he said.
Since his death, Foley’s life has been commemorated with a mural in Chicago’s Pilsen neighborhood where he had once lived. The image depicts one of his last days working in Syria in 2012. His family has created the James Foley Legacy Fund to support issues he cared deeply about.
Several other services have already been held. Last month, more than 1,000 people filled a New Hampshire church to remember Foley on what would have been his 41st birthday.
At Northwestern, a reception will be held immediately following the service at Parkes Hall, 1870 Sheridan Road, which is part of the Millar religious center. Food and beverages will be served. Both the memorial and the reception are open to the public.