A painful loss

    Blogger Dave Davies pays tribute to the life, work and memory of media scholar Phyllis Kaniss, who died Friday from complications related to cancer.

    The 1991 Philadelphia mayor’s race was a splendid brawl to cover – eight determined candidates going after each other for the right to run a bankrupt and dispirited city.

    We saw a rising star (Ed Rendell) and the departure of a legend (Frank Rizzo). There was substance, scandal, treachery, even death.

    But among my most enduring memories of the race are my repeated encounters and long conversations with a slight, curly-haired media scholar named Phyllis Kaniss.

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    She traveled the city and spent countless hours with the candidates and reporters covering them. Her book, The Media and the Mayor’s Race, is still one a handful of tomes I recommend to young reporters who want to understand the city.

    I got to know Phyllis beyond the campaign trail. I spoke several times at her class at the University of Pennsylvania, and I always learned as much as the students.

    That was because Phyllis understood that the essence of teaching is assigning work and creating situations that makes the students think for themselves and wrestle with new ideas.

    So the kids were always prepared, and their questions where challenging and thoughtful.

    She also created the Student Voices project, which connected high school students with the political process. She was one of those people who managed to do great things quietly. She was never the center of attention, but her touch was everywhere.

    Phyllis died Friday from complications related to cancer.

    She was an Oxford Circle girl who got a Ph.D. and an Ivy League job, but never forgot where she came from. She loved the city, and believed in public service and the power of truth.

    I’ll miss her.

    You can read her obituary in the Sunday Inquirer here.

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