Dr. Emory L. "Pete" Sasser, who friends say will long be remembered for both his warmth and wit, died early Sunday at University Community Hospital after a lengthy struggle with cancer. He was 62.
He was chairman of the mass communications department of the University of South Florida from 1973 to 1989.
Dr. Sasser, a journalism educator for 30 years, retired in June as dean of the Reed School of Journalism at West Virginia University in Morgantown.
Born Aug. 17, 1932, near Ashland, Ky., Dr. Sasser and his family later moved to Bainbridge, Ga., where he graduated from Bainbridge High School in 1948. He began working in journalism at age 14 as a printer's apprentice in Bainbridge.
He attended Georgia Southwestern Junior College and later received his bachelor's and master's degrees from the University of Georgia in 1958 and 1963, respectively. He received his doctorate from the University of Illinois in 1967.
Dr. Sasser was the architect of the Florida Opinion Poll, a highly respected random-sample survey taken from residents on public policies and issues, to which political observers and politicians still pay great heed.
Tim Counts, an associate professor of mass communications at USF, assisted Dr. Sasser in the effort, which they began in 1984.
"He was very proud of that poll," Counts said. "He worked extremely hard at it, and he enjoyed the labor. Sometimes he would make off-the-cuff comments that later you would think about and find yourself laughing. He was very dry."
Bill Rufty, a political reporter for the Ledger in Lakeland who also directs the Florida Opinion Poll, was saddened by the loss of his colleague.
"He treated the research we do as another form of news gathering," Rufty said. "And he was as exact with that as you would be taking facts from a police blotter. He was a journalist's journalist. It was in his blood."
Funeral services for Dr. Sasser will be at 3 p.m. Tuesday at Blackjack Baptist Church in Bainbridge, Ga.