Personal Musings

Struggling with Finality: A Tribute to My Dad

John Wilson Dunlop. Everyone knew him as Jake. And nearly everyone knew him. He died yesterday. He was my father. A founder. Innovator. Educator. Broadcaster. Husband. And Dad. My dad.

"Once Upon a TIme" Dad winnieI’m struggling with the finality of his death. It’s not that things were left unsaid. I often told my dad that I loved him. And he knew that I admired him, emulated him and aspired to be more like him. He shared his achievements with me, and I shared mine with him. (At age 53 I still sent him a copy of every article I published and he would call me to discuss them.) My wife, Scotti, thinks that I’ve become him. In small ways that is true. But I will never be Jake. I’ve got too much of my mom in me. It’s the combination of mom and dad that makes me the person that I have become. But as I said, I’m struggling. It is difficult for me to imagine that moving forward I won’t have conversations with my dad. I won’t get those quirky note cards he would send. I’ll miss all of it. He loved my family and we loved him. Dad was so wonderful with Meg and Scotti.

I learned a lot about healthcare in my dad’s final days. I shared some of those lessons in this blog. The experience also led me to read more about the patient’s perspective. I’m grateful for the learning and the perspective that this has afforded me.

Screen Shot 2014-06-03 at 7.45.10 AM

For those of you who didn’t know my dad, here’s an introduction. Jake loved his family. He also enjoyed antiquing, collecting tobacco cutters and duck decoys, telling tall tales, Saturday morning trips to the hardware store and being the center of attention. As a kid, one of my favorite things was running errands with dad on Saturdays. He would fix a glass of scotch and we would head out to the local hardware store, the barbershop and other points of interest. Wherever we lived, he was a local celebrity and television personality. He was recognized everywhere we went, and would make time for anyone who wanted to chat. On Saturday mornings I was part of his entourage – and it was so much fun.

DaDandMomChristmanDad was a pioneer in the field of public broadcasting. In the early days of television he played every role imaginable: producer, director, actor, program host, fundraiser, and station manager. Above all, he was an educator. Throughout his 40-year career in broadcasting he worked successfully to bring quality educational and public affairs programming to people living in remote areas where television signals didn’t typically reach.

Wood Grain Director's SlateJake began his television career while attending Iowa State University in Ames, Iowa. In 1950, he was offered the opportunity to move to the new medium of television as a producer-director. Iowa State was preparing to launch WOI-TV– the nation’s first educational television station. At WOI-TV, Jake produced and directed over 4,000 programs of all types ranging from in-school programs to college courses, cultural, science, news and public affairs to children’s programming. In 1952 he received the Institute for Education by Radio and Television Award for Children’s Programming.

From 1953 to 1954 he freelanced as director of sports telecasts for CBS. In 1955 Jake took a position as production manager for Alabama Educational Television at Auburn University. He was later promoted to manager of the Auburn Studios of the Alabama Network. In 1962, Jake went to work for the University of Maine in Orono to develop the State of Maine’s Educational Television Network.

Jake worked for the Ford Foundation from 1968 to 1970, laying the foundation for a public television service in the Virgin Islands. In 1970, he was appointed Station Manager of Vermont Educational Television. In 1977, Jake won an Emmy for Vermont ETV’s original production – “The 14th Star.” This was one of several Emmy’s he would win throughout his career.

Herald Sun Dunlop Leaves (top)

Jake took his final public television post in 1980, as director of the University of North Carolina Center for Public Television (UNC-TV). His assignment was to bring together separate operations run by three UNC campuses into one Center for Public Television. He led the Center to national prominence as a producer of quality programming for the national market including The Woodwright’s Shop, American Patchwork and Globe Watch.

Jake was an Emmy Award Winner; a recipient of the North Carolina Order of the Long Leaf Pine; member of the N.C. Association of Broadcasters’ Hall of Fame; member of the PBS Committee on Volunteerism; and former member Board of Trustees of the Eastern Educational Network. Most importantly, he was my dad.

46 comments on “Struggling with Finality: A Tribute to My Dad

  1. Condolences, Dan.

  2. Lisa Burris

    Dan—so sorry to hear of your loss. You have provided a beautiful tribute to him and I have no doubt you will continue his legacy.

  3. Dan, so very truly sorry for your loss. It was wonderful to read your blogs about your family, especially your parents and to admire, through it all, you, as you shared strength, new perspectives and continued to pave the way in patient experience. Your Dad must have been so truly proud with each and every article and endeavor as you followed in his life of achievements and created one of your own. A legacy, indeed. I truly am inspired by you sharing these details and the voice in your blog here, as always- he will be forever missed and never forgotten. My condolences to you and yours.

    • dandunlop

      Thank you, Dana. You are always so thoughtful. Your support means a great deal to me.

  4. Dan, so very sorry to hear of the loss of your Dad. I can only imagine how difficult this must be. Thank you so much for sharing yours (his) story, it is impressive – we can all see how proud you are of your Dad, and yes you do take after him quite a bit, and are doing a wonderful job of carrying on his legacy in marketing, communications, and the use of video in healthcare. For that you should also be very proud. It is an honor to get to know him even, if just a little bit, and it is an honor that we get the chance to work with you! Take care, and please share my condolences with your family. Look forward to seeing you soon,

    • dandunlop

      Lyle, thanks so much for you wonderful comment, and for your friendship. I believe in the expression that “we are known by the company we keep.” Knowing you has definitely enriched my life. Thanks for your support.

  5. Eric Sass


    My condolences. We will all miss Jake. He was a most special man and a friend and mentor. Jake was a leader in public broadcasting and always set a high bar for those that worked for and with him. Thank you for posting this blog about him, it brings back such wonderful memories. We all loved Jake and and our lives are much better because of his being a part of them. He also thought the world of you, and was so proud of your accomplishments. I am so sorry he is no longer around.


    • dandunlop

      It is so good to hear from you. My family thinks the world of you. I believe you have reached legendary status! If you know others from the public broadcasting arena, please let them know of dad’s passing. Thanks for your kind words.
      Take care,

  6. Dan, I am so very sorry for your loss. What a loving, memorable tribute to your father. Thank you for letting the rest of us get to know him. Peace to you and your family. You are in my prayers.


    • dandunlop

      Hi Karen, as you know, life is full of challenges. Thank you for your friendship and your support.

  7. Kathy Divis


    I am so sorry to hear about the loss of your dad, but what wonderful and touching memories you have of him, and what a lovely and loving tribute you wrote to him. And although I didn’t know your father, based on your description, I can only imagine, and am certain, he is smiling down on you now, and he is proud. Please accept my condolences and my hope that you and your family find solace in your wonderful memories in these coming days. My thoughts are with you.

    Kathy Divis

  8. Debbie Reczynski


    So sorry for your loss. Thank you for sharing this tribute; your dad sounds like a wonderful man. My condolences to you and your family.


  9. Eileen Druckenmillet

    So sorry Dan. I lost my dad 9 years ago and my mom this past Dec. You never really are the same, but you will integrate this experience as another lesson taught by your dad. He sounds like he was and is
    a wonderful spirit.

  10. JoAnn Jones McLean

    Beautiful Dan! So so sorry for your loss.

  11. Ellen Biddle

    Dear Dan and family,
    Even after these many decades apart, I still remember your parents clearly and so fondly. As a constant in each other’s early lives we were also constants in each other’s homes; your parents like second parents to me. I can see the smiles and hear the laughter of your large and loving family, even now.

    My heartfelt condolences to you all at this time of terrible loss. Please know I am with you all in spirit.

    • dandunlop

      Thanks Ellen. It is wonderful to hear from you. I see Carter daily on Facebook and think of your family often. Thank you for you kind comments.

  12. Rob Rosenberg

    Dan, very sorry to hear of your loss. What a wonderful tribute and we certainly know where you get your talent and spark. Peace and fond memories to you and your family. Rob

    • dandunlop

      Thank you, Rob. You are a good man! I’m glad that you are part of my community of colleagues and peers.

  13. Annie Emanuelli

    Dan – I’m so sorry to hear of the loss of your dad. I loved reading about him; you paint a vibrant and poignant portrait, and you love shines through every word. Sending you loving and healing thoughts.

    • dandunlop

      Thank you so much, Annie. You are very thoughtful. I’m grateful that I’ve gotten to meet you over the last year.
      Take care,

  14. Dan. So sorry to hear about the loss of your father. Your post is a touching tribute to a man that clearly had a positive impact not only on you but on the community he was part of. It is said that parents are never truly gone – we carry a part of them with us forever. Every time you write/post/speak a bit of your father’s voice sneaks in – a fitting tribute I think 🙂 Warm thought to you and your family.

  15. Dan I just learned of your dad’s passing I never met him, but he sounded like my kind of guy! I had 3 “dad,s” my biological dad passed in 1964 while I was in a Navy school and could not attend his service. My mentor dad passed in1975 and I had the honor of burying him here in Farmville. Susan’s dad passed in 1978. We hunted and golfer a lot. I still miss them and my faith makes
    me believe we will meet again. Jimmy and Susan Paul

    • dandunlop

      It is so good to hear from you, Jimmy and Susan! You are good people. Thanks for being there! I sure hope we can come up and visit you guys this summer. We let too much time pass between visits. Take care,

  16. Scott Orstad

    What a wonderful tribute to your father. He must be smiling down. So sorry to hear about his passing.

    • dandunlop

      Thank you, Scott. You are a good man and I appreciate your kind words. It has been a rough time, but the support has been overwhelming. Take care,

  17. Dan,

    Thank you for working through the shoot up in Boston last week. On the return trip we all reflected on your loss and our own experiences with our Dads. I just wanted to let you know that we made a donation to St. Jude’s children’s hospital in memory of your Dad. I really appreciate that you shared your impressions here so publicly. It was very heartfelt and vulnerable and a nice way to publicly say goodbye.
    It afforded me the opportunity to recall my own relationship with my Dad and I have similar feelings and experiences with him. He is the reason I became a photographer. He used to take me on these photo safari’s and we would both shoot the same subject, with the same old Minolta camera, with one lens, and then once we got the slides back we would pull out the projector and screen in the basement and critique each others’ work (I was too young for Scotch at that point). It was a passion he shared only with me (one of five kids) and it obviously had a profound effect on shaping me professionally and is something we still share to this day. Thanks again so much for sharing.

    With affection,

    Michael and all of the Flying Frog team.

    • dandunlop

      Thank you, Michael, and thanks to the entire team. You guys are great. I was fortunate to be with people that I genuinely like when I got the news. Having you guys around made it easier for me to cope. Thanks for your kindness.

  18. My heart is heavy. It is hard to imagine a world without Jake Dunlop. He was such a force in my life and the lives of so many others. We all loved and respected him. I thank you again for sharing him with us. We demanded so much. I thank God that I had the chance to let him know, again, how much he meant to me before he died. I have every note he sent me and you are so right, each one was “quirky.” Even though he struggled so much these last months, I know it was so hard to say goodby to him. You have done a beautiful job with this tribute. God Bless you and your entire family.

  19. Ron Plummer

    I had the honor to work with Jake Dunlop while he was General Manager at UNC-TV. No one has matched him as a leader and educator there, before or since. His life is to be celebrated as one of caring accomplishment. I loved his quirky sense of humor, as if he were telling us to take our craft seriously but not ourselves too much.
    He is probably looking down now and winking…………

    • dandunlop

      Ron, thank you so much for your comment, and for the kind words about my dad. I think “quirky” covers it!
      Take care,

  20. Margaret White


    Jake stole my heart when I arrived at UNC-TV on August 1, 1980. I was so taken with him. It was clear that he was not from around here. He made me laugh. He was not just the Director of UNC-TV — he became my friend. I arrived early each day to work and he would stroll the halls saying good morning and chatting with everyone he met along the way in his delightful television voice. He knew your name and who you were. Jake conducted a good life and enjoyed that living, taking you along whether you wanted to go or not. And, in the end, one was excited to have taken the journey with him. This is a time of mourning. However, I truly believe that he would have a tremendous sense of humor about it all. After all, he left us the best he had to offer — you.

    I wish for you and your family better days ahead and the sweet innocence and joy of the memories.


    • dandunlop

      Thanks so much for your thoughtful comment. It is a wonderful tribute to dad. He was my role model, and I will always hold myself up to the example he set.
      Take care,

  21. Mary Vosburgh

    Dan, I’m sorry for your loss. I worked with your Dad at Vermont ETV in the ’70s. .Reading about him brought back a lot of fun memories of him and our co-workers. You’ve paid him a beautiful tribute. I know he is very proud of you and your accomplishments.

    My sincere condolences to you and your family.
    Mary Vosburgh

    • dandunlop

      Mary, thanks so much for your kind words. I love hearing from people who knew dad. I remember those days at VT ETV very well. We lived in Fort Ethan Allen within walking distance of the station. I also recall those crazy ETV auctions!
      Take care,

  22. Lisa Ross

    Dan, So sorry to hear about your Dad. Your tribute was beautifully written and reminded me of how quickly time goes by. He was a wonderful person who lived with so much passion in all his endeavors. Thank you for sharing memories of your Dad. Glad to hear you are following in his footsteps! Remember his patience in our high school years. My sincere condolences for your loss.

    • dandunlop

      Thanks Lisa! He was a terrific father. And you’re right, he was very patient with us when we were in high school. I’ll shoot you an email separately. Take care Lisa. So good to hear from you.

  23. dean henline

    jake and patsy-best said, true friends of mine and nellies.i still have some of the golf balls he collected on his lunch walks while at unc.they shared wedding anniversaries at the angus barn. to say one of a kind is saying much to little. sadness!

    • dandunlop

      Hi Dean, thank you for you kind words. I know Jake and Patsy valued your friendship. Take care,

  24. Joe Merone

    Hi Dan. News travels slow sometimes, and The Burlington Free Press just posted Jake’s obituary today. I’m very sorry for your loss. I’m the last person still employed at Vermont ETV (now Vermont PBS) who worked here with your dad. Our time here didn’t overlap for long, but I can attest to fact that he was a delightful guy to work for. The public television family is al better for having known him.

    -Joe Merone

    • dandunlop

      Thank you, Joe. I appreciate you taking the time to leave a comment about my dad.

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