Remembering MCJ Professor Emeritus Rita Atwood

Rita Atwood

Rita Atwood, Fresno State Professor of Media, Communications and Journalism whose teaching abilities and course development impacted countless students and media professionals, passed away on Monday, April 1, 2019. She was 69 years old.

A Celebration of Life will be held at 11 a.m., June 1st at her gravesite in Turlock Memorial Park, 625 N. Soderquist Rd. A reception will follow. Rita’s wish was that any donations in her memory should go to Cats by the Tracks.

Atwood studied as an undergraduate at Fresno State and earned her bachelor’s degree in speech communications in 1972. She joined the Peace Corps in Venezuela for two years before returning to Fresno State to earn her master’s degree with distinction in Mass Communication and Journalism in 1977. She went on to receive her doctorate from the Department of Communication at the University of Washington in 1980.

Atwood’s professional teaching career began in 1986 at the University of Texas at Austin. She joined Fresno State as an associate professor of Mass Communication and Journalism in 1987 and was promoted to a full professor in 1988. She was instrumental in merging the Telecommunications and the Journalism Departments to create what is now known as the Department of Media, Communications and Journalism. Her contributions to Fresno State include the creation of Mass Communication and Journalism courses that helped ensure the future of the department, including Multicultural Mass Communication and Media Stereotypes, International Mass Communication, and New Information Technologies.

“Dr. Atwood poured her heart into the success of her students in MCJ, and it’s her vision of an integrated department that so successfully prepares our students to become the best in the field. I’m most grateful for her focus on the value of diversity and multiculturalism and her ever-present love for promoting the boundless creativity of our students,” said Dr. Saúl Jiménez-Sandoval, dean of the College of Arts and Humanities, California State University, Fresno.

Atwood’s fondest memories were being in the classroom with students and encouraging them to be enthusiastic about questioning their media environment. Her main goals were to help students become more critical consumers of media, encouraging them to question the truth and honesty portrayed by various forms of mass media.

“I doubt I ever would have started teaching if it hadn’t been for Rita Atwood,” said Don Priest, Fresno State professor emeriti. “[I] was pretty fed up with grad school and was seriously considering not finishing. Then Rita stepped in. She hounded me about it every day in that sly Rita way — told me I’d regret it the rest of my life if I didn’t finish, then convinced me to take some time off to write [my thesis]. So to get her off my back I locked myself in my little basement apartment for about a month and started writing. Rita would come by once or twice a week to bring me food and check on my progress. When I finally got the degree she gave me a big hug and told me that getting me through grad school was one of her favorite accomplishments.”

Rita Atwood

“[R]ita’s support for others was very obvious, always there to help those in need,” said Professor Emeritus James “Jim” Wilson.

In 2005, Atwood had a complete spinal fusion, which resulted in her early retirement in 2007. Her back surgery was not as successful as she had hoped and left her partially disabled. Rita shared her home with her elderly mother.  They both took care of each other until her mother’s death in 2010.

Rita loved cats. Last year, she kept five kittens in her bathroom for seven weeks, had them spayed and/or neutered and found homes for them. Rita’s wish was that any donations in her memory should go to Cats by the Tracks. https://www.adoptapet.com/catsbythetracks/

Rita Atwood was born in Kingsburg, California to Guy Atwood and Mary Evelyn (Addington) Atwood on April 23, 1949. She was preceded in death by her father, mother, and younger brother, Bill. She is survived by her two older brothers Guy Davis Atwood (Diane) of Pleasant Hill, California and John Atwood of Roanoke, Texas and their children; along with many cousins, nieces and nephews.


Alejandra Garcia and Diane Atwood contributed to this story.

Posted by

Fresno State College of Arts and Humanities Communication Specialist

2 thoughts on “Remembering MCJ Professor Emeritus Rita Atwood

    1. Rita spent her last few days remembering her past joys and friends, despite physical pain, loving memories of her time with cats, dogs, friends, and relatives. (Brother John)

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