Newhouse alumnus Mel Elfin '51 dies

By Wendy S. Loughlin

September 26, 2018

The former Newsweek Washington bureau chief was a longtime member of the Newhouse Advisory Board

Alumnus Mel Elfin ’51, whose long journalism career included 20 years as Washington bureau chief for Newsweek, died Sept. 22. He was 89.

photo of mel elfin at the daily orange
Elfin as a student at The Daily Orange Onondagan

Elfin retired in 1997 after a career in editing and writing that began during the 1950s when he was assistant city editor at the Long Island Daily Press. He held a pivotal position as Newsweek’s Washington bureau chief during the crisis-filled years from 1965-1985. In 1986, he became special projects editor for U.S. News & World Report, where he was responsible for producing the enormously popular “America’s Best Colleges” and “America’s Best Graduate Schools.”

Elfin was a connected and energetic alumnus, and in the ’80s and ’90s visited campus frequently to speak with and mentor students at The Daily Orange, where he was managing editor as an undergraduate. He also served on the Newhouse Advisory Board for many years.

On the occasion of the 50th anniversary of his graduation from Syracuse University, Elfin recalled working as a student in the “Hellbox,” a temporary metal prefab structure erected on campus during the G.I. Bulge following World War II. Located behind the now-demolished Yates Castle, which was then home to the School of Journalism, the Hellbox served as offices for student media including The Daily Orange and the Onondagan yearbook.

“The Hellbox was heated by a potbelly stove. The drywall had more holes than wall. It was scruffy, noisy and architecturally challenged. But it was one hell of a place to learn your trade,” Elfin said.  

In 1984, Elfin was presented with the George Arents Pioneer Medal, Syracuse University’s highest alumni recognition. He also received the Melvin Eggers Senior Alumni Award (2006) and the Chancellor’s Medal (1981).

In March, the Newhouse School presented him with a Lifetime Achievement Award in recognition of his professional achievement and work in the journalism industry.

Elfin is survived by his wife, Margery Lesser Elfin, and his children, David E. Elfin`82 and Dana Elfin.