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Texas has lost a public media titan. TPR’s President and CEO Joyce Slocum dies at 66

 Joyce Slocum
TPR archive
Joyce Slocum

Joyce Slocum, who led both NPR and Texas Public Radio into a new era for public media, died Sunday from complications of colon cancer. She was 66.

Slocum passed away in San Antonio surrounded by family and loved ones.

Colleagues remembered her as a successful lawyer and media executive who used her intelligence and principles as a moral force to shepherd news organizations through turbulent times.

“Joyce’s passing is a tremendous loss for TPR and the public media sector,” said TPR Board Chair Lori Castillo. ”Because of her impact as NPR’s interim CEO, Joyce was admired and respected across the industry. Moreover, her ambitious vision for TPR has made it one of the leaders among public media organizations.”

Slocum was instrumental in TPR’s growth from an organization of modest size and ambition to one whose reach and influence is recognized nationwide, with a deep passion for storytelling rooted in South Texas.

“During her decade as president and CEO, the staff of TPR increased over 60%,” said Nathan Cone, TPR’s vice president of cultural and community engagement. “This grew our capability to produce meaningful, award-winning news, arts programming, and public events that educate, entertain, and enlighten tens of thousands.”

A general view of the National Public Radio (NPR) headquarters in Washington, D.C. on April 23, 2020 amid the Coronavirus pandemic. After extended negotiations over an additional $500 billion in stimulus funding in response to the ongoing COVID-19 outbreak, the U.S. Congress is set send another economic relief bill to President Trump to sign into law after a House vote later today.
Graeme Sloan/Graeme Sloan/Sipa USA via Reuter
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X07185
A general view of the National Public Radio (NPR) headquarters in Washington, D.C. on April 23, 2020 amid the Coronavirus pandemic. After extended negotiations over an additional $500 billion in stimulus funding in response to the ongoing COVID-19 outbreak, the U.S. Congress is set send another economic relief bill to President Trump to sign into law after a House vote later today.

Before Slocum came to TPR in 2014, she served as interim CEO of NPR in Washington D.C. for nine months. Slocum was there from 2008 to 2013, and she was credited as having a stabilizing presence on the public broadcasting network.

Slocum was NPR’s general counsel when she was asked to lead the organization in 2011 following a period of turmoil marked by financial and morale issues.

"She provided strong and steady leadership when it was most needed," said NPR Spokesperson Isabel Lara. "Staff remember her as a compassionate leader who lifted morale with her energy, enthusiasm and good humor."

During her time leading NPR, Slocum defended the network on Capitol Hill while championing new programming and podcasts — including the "TED Radio Hour" — that would mark a renaissance of new programming for NPR.

She also spearheaded lesser-known initiatives that have had long-term impact, like accessibility and captioning for the hearing-impaired.

NPR's CEO John Lansing called Slocum's nine-month tenure as interim CEO a critical moment for the organization.

"She understood the importance of our public service mission like few do, from the vantage point of having served in so many essential roles across the network," Lansing said. "We all loved Joyce for her wisdom, her empathy, and her Texas common sense."

She also led the design and construction of NPR’s current 400,000 square foot headquarters in Washington D.C.

But despite her success in the nation's capital, Slocum’s heart was in Texas.

“She would say she wanted to come back to Texas where people are sweet,” said Terri Minatra, former general counsel for TPR and NPR. Slocum returned to Texas in 2014.

Slocum was born in Dallas on April 24, 1957. She graduated from Southern Illinois University and the St. Louis University School of Law.

After several years in private practice focused on business law in the Dallas area, Slocum served as both a legal and business adviser to 7-Eleven, Inc., from 1984 to 1994.

She later became executive vice president for global legal and business affairs and general counsel for HIT Entertainment, a producer and distributor of children's entertainment products and programs, such as "Barney & Friends."

"She was a force — a combination of intelligence, humor, and great character," said Sheryl Leach, the creator of Barney.

Sheryl Stamps Leach (from left), her mother Mary Stamps, and Joyce Slocum in New York City in 1996.
Courtesy photo
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Sheryl Stamps Leach
Sheryl Stamps Leach (from left), her mother Mary Stamps, and Joyce Slocum in New York City in 1996.

Slocum oversaw the hit show's licensing, distribution, and derivative products such as books, a movie, a radio show, and a theme park attraction.

"All those things, Joyce was at the helm," Leach said. "And she did a just brilliant job."

Several years later, Slocum led a "Band of Barney Brothers" in the nationwide enforcement of copyright and trademark rights against the makers of fake Barney costumes.

As a lawyer, she has been described as a “tough but fair negotiator” and someone who never compromised on her core principles.

"Everyone who worked with Joyce, including opposing counsel, respected her talents and her ability," said Tom Leatherbury, an attorney who worked with Slocum in various capacities throughout her legal career. He is now the director of the First Amendment Clinic at Southern Methodist University's Dedman School of Law.

"She accomplished so much because she was a tough, but fair, advocate and negotiator," Leatherbury said. "She was always able to see things from the other side’s perspective."

She was also celebrated as a great storyteller with a tremendous sense of humor, frequently peppering conversation with a family anecdote or clever truism — "get to gettin!" — that would punctuate thoughts with a fine point. Her sharp and quick wit could turn corners during meetings, and she managed a team like family — all traits that paid off as a public media executive.

After five and a half years at NPR, Slocum jumped at the chance to return home.

 Joyce Slocum with Robert Siegel, former host of 'All Things Considered.'
TPR archive
Joyce Slocum with Robert Siegel, former host of 'All Things Considered.'

She arrived at TPR in San Antonio in 2014 and soon after launched a capital campaign to build TPR’s new headquarters as part of the San Pedro Creek redevelopment on the city’s West Side.

Six years later, TPR moved into the Irma and Emilio Nicolas Media Center, which was named after the founders of the Spanish-language broadcast network that became Univision.

The move cemented TPR’s status as a San Antonio institution.

Shayan Khezri

"Joyce brought radio broadcasting to downtown where it all started. For my family, it makes me think of my grandfather and his building of KCOR radio, in downtown San Antonio, where the public was able to come to have a platform to build a voice for the issues that were important to them," said Guillermo Nicolas, the son of Irma and Emilio Nicolas.

"In a way, she walked in the same footsteps as my granddad. And I think that it is incredibly important for a city like this to see the media near them. It empowers people. It makes it more theirs. At a time like this, to have a place for civil discourse is paramount to our community and to our country," Nicolas said. "Without Joyce's work at TPR and NPR on a national scale, I think our society would be in deeper trouble today."

 Joyce Slocum with Robert Salluce, TPR's vice president of marketing and communications (left) and Guillermo Nicolas.
TPR archive
Joyce Slocum with Robert Salluce, TPR's vice president of marketing and communications (left) and Guillermo Nicolas.

Slocum led TPR through the COVID-19 pandemic with resolve and compassion, finding creative ways to connect the community with virtual events and through the dissemination of critical information.

She pushed the station to expand in the podcasting space when people needed the comfort of familiar voices outside the radio.

In the post-pandemic era, TPR’s headquarters became a hub for cultural events in San Antonio.

The station was recognized with the national Edward R. Murrow Award for Overall Excellence in Large Market Radio in 2022 and 2023.

Her life's work has culminated in this, and I think for those who want to study it and make their station successful, I think you could take a page from the Joyce playbook,” Minatra said.

 Joyce Slocum, TPR's president and CEO
TPR archive
Joyce Slocum, TPR's president and CEO

Slocum was a champion for serving underrepresented communities. She supported the creation of TPR’s Border & Immigration desk and its Spanish language service TPR Noticias.

"She did not just embrace the culture of San Antonio but chose to make a difference and move it forward in a city that hasn't always had people [that] think that way," Nicolas said.

Slocum was a founding member of The Texas Newsroom, NPR’s experiment in uniting newsrooms in San Antonio, Dallas, Houston, Austin, and cities across Texas into a super-network that provides comprehensive regional coverage. It would serve as the model for other regional network alliances across the country.

"Joyce was a leader in the collaborative journalism efforts of NPR and Member organizations," Lansing said. "She will be remembered as a strong advocate for the promise and power of our local/national network and our shared mission of journalism in the public interest."

 Joyce Slocum with her dog, Belle.
TPR archive
Joyce Slocum with her dog, Belle.

Her legacy at TPR and NPR includes an entrepreneurial culture where journalists, content producers, and staff were all encouraged to pursue their passions — and supported by savvy fundraising to make it possible.

“I personally appreciate the freedom and creativity that Joyce granted to staff to innovate, develop, and carry out projects and ideas,” Cone said. “In my last visit with her I told her as much, and she said she knew that the staff would continue that spirit in the years to come. She said, 'I’m proud of you all.' As we are of her."

On Wednesday, Feb. 28, TPR announced that Rebecca Caven, TPR's vice president of development, would serve as interim CEO and president.

In a statement, Caven said, "Prior to joining TPR, Joyce was described to me as that rare CEO who perfectly balanced being both a force to be reckoned with while also being a compassionate, visionary leader. Joyce has instilled those qualities in our entire executive team, and we will continue to carry her vision forward as our board begins the search to recruit our new CEO."

Slocum’s family said they were grateful for the outpouring of support from San Antonio and across the U.S.

“Instead of sending flowers, Joyce would rather see people contribute to TPR,” said her brother, Michael Slocum. “She was so proud to make TPR her legacy.”

Copyright 2024 Texas Public Radio. To see more, visit Texas Public Radio.

TPR's News Director Katz leads the organization’s news and journalism efforts, overseeing the newsroom’s day-to-day management and the development of a strategic vision for the news division. He also serves on the organization’s executive leadership team. TPR’s news team currently has 16 staff members, including reporters dedicated to in-depth coverage of subjects including Arts & Culture, Bioscience & Medicine, Education, Technology & Entrepreneurship, Military & Veterans Issues and State Government.
Fernando Ortiz Jr.