National Press Club

Julie Schoo dies; was Executive Director of the Club's Journalism Institute

May 12, 2018

Julie Schoo

Julie Schoo

Julia Cooper Schoo, whose keen appreciation for art and journalism helped to secure the financial future of the National Press Club and its nonprofit Journalism Institute, died Wednesday at her home in Bethesda. She was 69.

Schoo spent her professional career helping journalists, first at the Washington Press Club and then at the National Press Club, where she rose through the ranks to become executive director of the Journalism Institute, the Club’s professional training and First Amendment advocacy arm.

A connoisseur of antiques, she decided one day that it was time to have a large painting that hung outside the Club bar reappraised. When the results came back, “I couldn’t sleep,” Schoo told colleagues.

“Norman Rockwell Visits a Country Editor,” a gift from the publisher of the iconic American artist, turned out to be so valuable that leaders of the 110-year-old club of journalists and professional communicators realized they couldn’t afford to insure it.

Schoo and Club Executive Director William McCarren helped lead the Club and Institute boards through the complex process of qualifying and auctioning the painting by Christie’s in 2015, bringing in nearly $11 million – a sum that solidified the Club’s finances and enabled the Journalism Institute to expand its work as a training center for future generations of journalists and as an advocate for freedom of the press.

The painting was recently on display at the Norman Rockwell Museum in Massachusetts, on loan from its anonymous buyer. A full-scale facsimile now hangs in place of the original outside the Reliable Source bar of the Club.

It was a capstone achievement for Schoo, whose warmth and wit made her a friend and adviser to many members of Washington’s journalism community.

“Julie used her considerable organizational and communications skills to bring reporters together to improve their craft and to help the public better understand journalism. Her grace and charm earned a multitude of friends and supporters of the Institute’s programs. The world desperately needs more like her but she was one of a kind,” said NPCJI President Barbara Cochran.

Under Schoo’s leadership, the NPCJI transitioned from essentially a single-donor, low-budget non-profit to a thriving, multi-million-dollar enterprise. In addition to the Rockwell-funded endowment, the Institute holds an annual dinner, organized by Schoo, that honors the best in journalism including Gwen Ifill, Tom Friedman, Jim Lehrer, Bob Woodward, Wolf Blitzer, Andrea Mitchell and Christiane Amanpour. This event, known as The Fourth Estate Award Dinner, is one of the career highlights for leading journalists.

More recently Schoo turned her attention to press freedom issues, coordinating the legal strategy in an effort to obtain the release of Mexican journalist Emilio Gutierrez Soto, the Club’s 2017 Press Freedom Award honoree. Gutierrez fled Mexico after receiving death threats resulting from his articles about corruption in the military. Schoo brought together a coalition of 19 journalism groups to advocate for asylum for Gutierrez and to press for his release from a U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement detention facility in El Paso, Texas. These cases, which were a substantial undertaking, have been filed and are awaiting adjudication. Gutierrez, who has committed no crime, remains behind bars since Dec. 7.

“Julie found it outrageous that governments here or around the world would jail journalists. Her focus and dedication and force of argument were an inspiration to those of us at the Press Club and in the greater journalism community. She had a keen sense when it came to injustice and little tolerance for it,” said McCarren, her counterpart at the Club.

Schoo was the executive director of the Washington Press Club when it merged with the National Press Club in 1985. She worked in the National Press Club’s membership department, eventually becoming its director before moving on to lead the NPCJI. As membership director, Schoo recruited many of the Club’s 3,100 members including many who went on to become presidents and board members of the Club.

She was a tireless advocate for the rights of women and a mentor to many of the young women at the Club.

“Recently Julie worked with a new organization called Press Forward which is looking at ways to revamp newsroom behavior in light of recent problems,” said Club President Andrea Edney. “The group decided to launch its organization with a public event at the NPC. That is the kind of thing Julie brought to the Press Club. She helped every day to make us who we are.”

Schoo was an avid reader with a sharp eye for talent. She ran a book program at the Club for many years, inviting the best authors to come and give book talks and sign copies for Club members. She also organized the Club’s annual Book Fair where more than 100 authors would travel from across the country to talk to Club members and sign books for them. These sell-out events were frequently attended by as many as 1,000 people.

The daughter of Bertram Cleveland Cooper and Constance Lang Cooper, Schoo was born in Charlottesville, Virginia. She attended Washington-Lee High School in Arlington and went on to graduate from Sullins College in Bristol, Virginia. Schoo was a lifelong animal lover and advocate and adored her Jack Russell terriers Pickwick and Max and her cat Hannah.

She is survived by her son Carter W. Schoo, her daughter Margaret Perry Schoo, her grandson James Henry Pickens, and her granddaughter Elsa Marie Pickens, all of Bethesda.

Schoo was an active member of Christ Church, Georgetown, and a memorial service is planned there. The family asks that in lieu of flowers, donations may be made in her name to: Christ Church, 3116 O Street NW, Washington, D.C. 20007 or National Press Club Journalism Institute, 529 14th Street NW, 13th Floor, Washington, D.C. 20045.

As we remember our dear friend and colleague and celebrate her extraordinary life, we invite you to email us with your own favorite stories and sentiments at InMemoriam@press.org. These memories and well-wishes will be compiled and gifted to her family.

Click here to visit the "30: In Memoriam" page.