Irving Fang wasn't going to be a journalist.
In high school, he wrote an essay about wanting to become a civil engineer, and took it as a sign when his teacher asked him to read it in front of the class. He graduated a year early and enrolled at the University of California, Berkeley.
Always a top student, he "failed miserably," said daughter Daisy Pellant.
"If you knew my dad, you would absolutely have predicted this. You could rearrange furniture and he wouldn't have even noticed until he sat down and fell on the floor," she said. "Spatial relations were not his thing at all."
Fang quit college and enlisted in the Army, spending a year and a half working as a clerk at Kentucky's Fort Knox.
In time, he came to see his high school essay in a new light.
"I think he realized, 'Actually, what that experience in high school was telling me was I'm a good writer,' " Pellant said.
A journalist and University of Minnesota professor remembered for his kindness, natural teaching ability and dedication to the craft, Fang died Oct. 5. He was 87.
Fang was born May 4, 1929, in New York City. His parents were European immigrants who worked in factories in the garment district, sewing pockets onto clothing. They spoke Yiddish at home.
Early on, Fang learned the value of education. His mother, Katy, had earned an award in high school that provided enough money for both her and her mother to move to the United States.
"I think he felt like education really set people free," Pellant said of her father.
Newspaper reporting jobs took Fang around the world — including a stint in London, where he met his first wife after following her into her French class. He eventually earned a Ph.D. in speech communications from the University of California, Los Angeles.
Fang found his way into the burgeoning world of television news with a job at ABC.
Even after the University of Minnesota recruited him for a teaching job, Fang would return to ABC during election seasons. At that time, the three major TV networks competed to report fast, accurate election results. Fang brought computer-based predictions to ABC, helping the network stay competitive against NBC and CBS.
At the U's journalism school, Fang taught courses ranging from writing and communications history to documentary filmmaking. He is credited with authoring the first practical textbook on broadcast journalism.
"He knew the news business. And he knew the television business," said former student Tom Volek, now an associate dean in the School of Journalism at the University of Kansas. "He had a grasp of where it was and where it was going. And he was just such a nice guy."
Fang's door was always open to students, Volek said, recalling discussions about television and media ethics. And he worked to make information accessible — he even started his own publishing company to help reduce textbook costs, said daughter Rachel Fang.
Former students would often describe Fang as a tough professor, Pellant said, and instrumental in their journalism careers — something he may not have fully realized.
"We're a Jewish family, and there's a tradition in Judaism that your goal is to be of blessed memory," Pellant said. "We tried to impress upon him that he really did have a positive impact on so many people."
Fang is survived by two daughters and five grandchildren. Services have been held.