On March 14, Marquette lost one of its longest serving and more fascinating professors. John Grams, an associate professor in the College of Communication, passed away due to unspecified causes, likely related to complications of pneumonia. Grams was born in 1933.
He will be remembered as a reserved and humble man whose years of experience in the field of broadcast and electronic communication left an impact on all those he worked with.
Grams joined Marquette in 1964 as an instructor and was promoted to associate professor in 1976. In his more than 45 years of experience, both in broadcast media and in teaching at Marquette, Grams was best known for his wealth of stories and his unpretentious intellectualism.
Grams, who earned his doctorate from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, also spent 25 years as a professional broadcaster, mostly in Milwaukee.
One of Grams’ former students, Leif Brostrom, a 2010 graduate of the College of Communication, recalled spending time with Grams both during and after classes, saying he could always count on Grams for a joke.
“His years of experience in the industry gave him an intimidating quality, but he was also eager to make your stories and ideas better,” Brostrom said.
Grams wrote countless books and articles on topics of his expertise, including broadcast media history, popular culture and jazz history.
One of Grams’ colleagues, Erik Ugland, an associate professor in the College of Communication, said Grams’ love for jazz grew out of his friendship with jazz legend Louis Armstrong. Grams would often tell stories about his encounters and interviews with the groundbreaking musician. Early in his career, Grams hosted a radio show titled “Grams on Jazz.”
“He told some amazing stories about sneaking into clubs to see Armstrong play,” Ugland said. “(But) what I loved most about John was that he was a very smart man, but he had little patience for the pretensions that pervade academia.”
Ugland said he enjoyed meeting with Grams because of his no-nonsense attitude and his ability to cut right to the heart of an issue.
“A lot of people never fully appreciated what an excellent teacher he was or what an extraordinary life he lived,” Ugland said. “He was part of the renaissance of American television and rubbed elbows with some of the giants in the industry.”
Along with Armstrong, Grams was lifelong friends with Garry Marshall, who created Milwaukee-set TV shows “Happy Days” and “Laverne & Shirley,” according to Grams’ friend Dick Christianson.
Christianson, founding editor of Classic Toy Trains magazine, wrote in a recent article on the magazine’s website that Grams and Marshall met after both serving in the armed forces and working on the American Forces Network. Grams was an avid toy trains hobbyist and wrote 129 articles for Christianson’s magazine.
Christianson wrote that he became close friends with Grams after meeting in 1989, and that he would be sorely missed by all those who knew him or read his work.
Brostrom succinctly put it best when speaking of Grams.
“He will undoubtedly be missed, and the broadcasting world and Marquette as a whole has lost a great mind and talent with his passing,” he said.
Condolences can be sent to his daughter, Jennifer Lowe, P.O. Box 465, Downer’s Grove, IL 60514.
Funeral arrangements remain unspecified, but a memorial service will be held on campus at 4 p.m. on April 4 in the Chapel of the Holy Family in the Alumni Memorial Union.