Accounts of Don Forst’s life have focused on his time in newsrooms. But his final accomplishments were in classrooms at the University at Albany. Forst, who died Jan. 4 at 81, was an unconventional teacher.
In August 2012, I was one of a dozen or so journalism majors seated in an oversized closet filled with desks in the Humanities Building. Most of us had no clue what we had gotten ourselves into. We were too young to know the relevance of the name “D. Forst” on our schedules.
Seconds after entering the room, he gave meticulous instructions on how to write information on an index card. When we had all filled out cards with information about ourselves, Forst found problems with every card. We learned that a journalist pays attention to detail.
His lessons were often revealed after a student had completed a task.
Forst had a view and way about everything. We grew accustomed to him. His low voice, which took an acute ear, was intentional “in order to make sure you listen,” as he put it.
You didn’t mess around in his class. Tardiness was not acceptable. Many tried and failed to convince Forst to allow their late entry. Out of respect, and admittedly fear, I was late only once. Missing that class had nothing to do with academics. It was a privilege to learn from Forst. Missing out on his wisdom was foolish.
The next semester a handful of us were in the journalism honors course. As a celebration of our graduation that spring, the school held a dinner for the students and journalism faculty. After eating, we honored Don Forst with heartfelt words of thanks for having given us his time, his wisdom and his love.
At some point in his time as an adjunct professor, he received another title: Editor in Residence. It was right that he served as editor until the very end.
I was not there when he ran Newsday or the Village Voice, but I cherished the time I got to learn from Don Forst. Unbeknownst to many, some of his greatest work was done in his second profession at UAlbany. Forst had a major impact on the lives of many students lucky enough to learn from him.