It is with profound sadness that SC&I announces the death of John “Jack” Grasso. A part-time lecturer at SC&I for 21 years, Grasso taught public relations through the Communication Department and served as the faculty advisor of the Rutgers Public Relations Student Society of America (Todd Hunt Chapter). In 2016 he also founded Scarlet PR, an in-house public relations agency, as part of PRSSA. It was run by Rutgers students who were advised by Grasso.
According to his obituary, Grasso passed away at Overlook Medical Center on Saturday, June 15, 2019 at the age of 78. The visitation will be held at the Paul Ippolito Summit Memorial, 7 Summit Ave, Summit, N.J. on Wednesday, June 19, from 4-7 p.m. The Funeral Mass will be celebrated on Thursday, June 20, at St. Teresa of Avila Church, 306 Morris Ave., Summit, N.J. at 1:30 p.m. followed by the burial at St. Teresa’s Cemetery, Summit.
SC&I’s Dean Jonathan Potter said, “Jack Grasso was irrepressible. He was passionate about teaching and that passion bubbled over in his classes. I had the privilege of teaching some sessions with him, and his warm and relaxed style encouraged students to join in. He was attentive and thoughtful and plainly the students appreciated the thought he was putting in to generating an excellent pedagogic environment; he knew their names and took time to talk to them individually. I always enjoyed my conversations with Jack, and I will miss sharing the classroom with him.”
A former Vice President of Corporate Communications at AT&T, Grasso lived most recently in Bedminster, and, for many years previously, in Summit, N.J. Grasso thoroughly enjoyed teaching courses such as “Principles of Public Relations” and “Public Relations Management,” and mentoring his students, to whom he was devoted. He was a constant, upbeat presence at SC&I and he was deeply beloved by the entire SC&I community of faculty, countless students, and staff.
“Jack Grasso had an enormous impact on thousands of students he taught since he first arrived here in 1998,” said Craig R. Scott, Communication Department chair. “He brought not only decades of industry experience to his classes and to the co-curricular student organizations he advised, but also a passion for students and a commitment to helping them be successful. He was at the center of the most popular specialization in the communication major—teaching many of the foundational courses in public relations and always working to keep the curriculum and the instructional staff current and vibrant. The loud applause from students when his name was mentioned at our annual commencement ceremonies was just one of many indicators showing how much he was loved and admired by all those around him. The Communication Department and the SC&I community have suffered a great loss with Jack’s passing and we will all miss him. But, his many contributions here will not be forgotten and his legacy lives on in all those students he has impacted in so many wonderful ways.”
Grasso was initially hired at SC&I in 1998 as the school's first full-time non-tenure-track faculty member. He held this position for two years, and then moved to Florida for a couple of years. When he returned to New Jersey, he resumed teaching on and off as a PTL, beginning to teach continuously in 2006, said SC&I’s Associate Dean for Administration Karen Novick. He had planned to teach two courses during this summer, and three courses in the fall of 2019.
Novick added, “Jack had professional experience doing voice-overs, so I had asked him if he would record the phone tree for SC&I when the new phone system was put in. If you dial the main number, 848-932-7500, you will hear his friendly, booming voice directing you on the menu options.”
In 2017 University Career Services named Grasso “Career Mentor of the Year,” after he was nominated by seven of his students.
In an article SC&I wrote about his award, titled “University Career Services Names Jack Grasso ‘Career Mentor of the Year,’” Grasso described the qualities he believed were essential in order to serve as a great mentor to college students. He said, “Being a mentor is not an intellectual skill or experience. I’m reluctant to say it resides in your heart because that might sound a little too ethereal. It really resides in your psychological disposition toward sharing what you know and what you’ve done with young people who are interested in learning and have an eye to their future. There are of course, really great young men and women who really don’t have a plan or a concept of what to do with a swiftly approaching future of real life. On some level they are the ones that respond more readily to mentoring and get on a track with a special level of commitment and energy. The key is to regard them as fully functioning adults who are honing their skills for the work ahead. The most effective technique of mentoring is sharing your own stories about how you got started and how you grew and how you became a viable participant in a meaningful career. You have to let your students know you are not anything special, that you were once in their position, that you worked hard because the best luck always comes from the hardest effort.”
In the same article, Grasso explained the reasons he chose a career in public relations. He said it gave him the chance to write and “use facts, references and clear language as the raw materials in creating mutually beneficial business outcomes . . . whether it was a news release, a speech, a media conference, a new product announcement, or a major media interview, I had many satisfying achievements in becoming a senior communications executive. A job like this has many facets requiring the skills of a counselor, an expert in all aspects of the enterprise, a developer of aspiring young and talented professionals and a contributor to policy decisions across a wide range of disciplines.” To listen to Jack describe his career and mentoring, click on this video.
On the seventeenth anniversary of 9/11, on September 11, 2018, SC&I interviewed Grasso about where he had been that day. The article, titled “SC&I’s Jack Grasso Remembers September 11, 2001,” explains that Grasso “worked as a communications director for Bush’s campaign during the election. The White House had extended an invitation to Grasso and his wife to attend a Leadership Forum on Sept. 11, 2001 at Emma E. Booker Elementary School in Sarasota, Florida. Grasso graciously accepted, unaware of the events that would transpire that morning. Standing in the same room as President Bush, Grasso watched as the president made his first remarks acknowledging the attack. Shortly after, said Grasso, the president and his staff hurried to board Air Force One to return to Washington, D.C.” At the same time, one of Jack’s three children, Andrew, was fleeing New York City. Grasso described his experiences on September 11, 2001 in this video.
According to his obituary, Grasso once hosted his own show on television, titled “Java with Jack.” He was a Yankee's fan and had many hobbies, including writing short stories, acting, boating, and playing golf.
"Jack was a community builder and a galvanizing force in our Strategic Public Communication and Public Relations specialization," said Brian Householder, director of undergraduate studies in Communication and assistant teaching professor of Communication. "He was a true friend to everyone. His energy was infectious and filled with positivity. He made a 'real' impact on the lives of so many students and was a mentor to most of our PR faculty. He is indelible and irreplaceable for our program. I will miss him beyond measure."
To learn more about Grasso, please see the following articles and video:
Rutgers counselors are available to any student seeking grief counseling or general support. For students who need to talk, the university provides 24/7 access to trained counselors via phone. You can call CAPS (Counseling, Alcohol and Other Drug Assistant Program & Psychiatric Services) at 848-932-7884 and press “1” to access a counselor. If you prefer text, the Crisis Text Line is available, text “Knights” to 741741 to be connected via text to a trained counselor. You may also visit the center at 17 Senior Street in New Brunswick.