Former UNM administrator succumbs to COVID-19
By Matthew Reisen / Journal Staff Writer
Published: Thursday, April 2nd, 2020 at 6:04pm
Updated: Thursday, April 2nd, 2020 at 10:29pm
One of the “brightest stars” in the world of academic journalism has gone out.
Bob Tiemens, a pioneer of visual journalism and former chairman at the University of New Mexico, died from complications of COVID-19 on Monday in a Colorado Springs Hospital.
He was 84 years old. An obituary says that Tiemens’ work, starting at the University of Utah, led to graduate students across the nation seeking out his research program on film and television production. He went on to serve as the first chairman of the newly merged Communications and Journalism Department at UNM, holding the position from 1990 until 1992.
Professors and students remember Tiemens fondly as a model mentor who influenced hundreds of students, colleagues and journalism professionals in a decadeslong career. Tiemens’ family referred to him as an “exceptional man” whose dry humor and contagious smile will be missed dearly.
“It’s very difficult for me to talk about this,” Robin Tiemens, his daughter, told the Journal. “… You know, honestly there aren’t enough words to do him justice.”
Robin Tiemens said her father didn’t know he had COVID-19 when he was taken from an assisted-living home to the hospital “in the wee hours” of Monday morning.
“His test result came back positive the day he died,” she said. “… It was very quick.”
Robin Tiemens said her father was a fair and loving man who put family, among them two daughters and three grandchildren, at “No. 1,” with the colleagues, students and departments he worked for a close second.
“He wanted everybody to succeed and would’ve done whatever he could to help along with that,” she said.
Richard Schaefer, a longtime UNM professor and former chairman of the Communication and Journalism Department, counts himself as one of hundreds who were inspired by Tiemens.
“Very influential, I think, for a lot of young people who are now no longer young,” he said.
Schaefer was a graduate student at the University of Utah when he took two visual communication classes with Tiemens.
“I enjoyed him very much as a professor,” he said. “He was an expert in aspects of visual communication that dealt with screens.”
Schaefer said Tiemens was a master in the ways that video editing and camera choices would influence “people’s perceptions” of news and conducted some pioneering studies on camera angles used in political debates.
He said that Tiemens and Herb Zettl are considered “pioneers in broadcast aesthetics” and that the pair started a yearly conference called Viscom, covering a wide array of visual communication topics.
Referred to as an “un-Organized conference” with “no association, no board, no dues, no official membership,” the four-day event is held in dozens of visually stimulating locales, such as Colorado, Canada, Wyoming and, in 2011, Taos.
“It was a very nice, intimate, conference,” Schaefer said. “I’d say about 60% of the people who went to that conference felt like they had a very important personal and professional relationship with him.”
Robin Tiemens said that outside his career, her father loved woodworking, particularly making clocks, and golfing. During his time at UNM, she said, her father enjoyed getting outdoors to the beautiful landscapes and wildlife of Bosque del Apache or the culturally steeped sites of Chaco Canyon and Acoma Pueblo.
Whether near or far, she said, the two spoke every day for years – the last time being Monday morning. At the time, Tiemens was not in pain and was his usual playful self, she said.
“I said, ‘Is there anything that you need from me?’ He kind of laughed, and he said, ‘Not at this moment,’ ” she said. He died several hours later.
“You know, it’s not anything really different than what we hear on the news,” Robin Tiemens said. “I can’t go to his apartment and get any of his items, I can’t meet with family for support. … People can’t come together. It’s just a bad situation made worse.”
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