Public Affairs’ B.J. Almond retires after 18 years

Dozens of Rice administrators, faculty and staff gathered at the Rice Welcome Center in Sewell Hall July 31 for a retirement reception in honor of B.J. Almond, Rice’s longtime director of news and media relations in the Office of Public Affairs.

B.J. Almond

B.J. Almond, Rice’s longtime director of news and media relations in the Office of Public Affairs, retired Aug. 3. (Photos by Jeff Fitlow)

Almond joined Rice in 2000 as associate director of news and media relations and was named director in 2006.

President David Leebron, Provost Marie Lynn Miranda and Vice President for Public Affairs Linda Thrane each praised Almond’s dedication and thoughtfulness and recalled examples of his professionalism and unflappable calm during crises.

“He has slogged through hurricanes Rita, Katrina, Ike and Harvey,” Thrane said, pointing out that Almond had written more than 900 Rice News stories and press releases and had edited more than 17,000 others.

“B.J. is good in every sense of the word,” Thrane said. “He’s good at media relations and internal communications. He’s a good team leader who is good to his team. He’s a good colleague. He’s a good soul. And the good news for B.J. is he’s old enough to retire but young enough to enjoy it.”

Leebron recalled working with Almond throughout his 14-year presidency on a range of complicated and sometimes thorny issues.

B.J. Almond

At the reception, President David Leebron, right, cited Almond’s “extraordinary contributions” to raising Rice’s visibility in the media.

“One of the notable things is just how unflappable B.J. is,” Leebron said. “As we’ve dealt with the media, occasionally that devolves into crisis. Sometimes they’re small crises. Sometimes they’re big crises. And having somebody who has that kind of consistency and levelheadedness is important.”

Leebron cited Almond’s “extraordinary contributions” to raising Rice’s visibility in the media.

“And it’s not just about the university, as a whole, being visible,” he said. “It’s about people knowing Rice is here, and that Rice is doing great things. It’s taking all of the distinct things that happen, as a university, and making them visible to others.”

He also noted that the Rice Board of Trustees honored Almond’s professionalism and extraordinary dedication in 2014. “That is a rare honor, and it was extraordinarily well-deserved,” Leebron said.

B.J. Almond

Vice President for Public Affairs Linda Thrane, left, praised Almond’s professionalism and unflappable calm during crises.

Miranda said it was difficult to formulate remarks for Almond’s retirement celebration.

“I know in these sorts of situations you’re supposed to be funny, and you’re supposed to be brief,” she said. “I can certainly be brief, but I don’t think I’m going to be able to be funny because I actually haven’t had any fun at all with B.J.

“It sounds like a joke, but it isn’t,” Miranda said, recalling how Almond had helped her communicate with the Rice community, the news media and external audiences during some of her most difficult times at Rice, including the days and weeks following Hurricane Harvey.

“While I haven’t had the chance to have a lot of fun with you, I have had a chance to learn about how to communicate when you’re trying to be helpful and informative and compassionate,” Miranda said to Almond. “I’ve learned a lot from you about how to communicate when you are trying to demonstrate your love and commitment to our institution, even as you are recognizing and calling out some of our failures, even as we are committing ourselves to addressing some of those failures.

B.J. Almond

Colleagues celebrated Almond’s 18 years at Rice with a reception July 31.

“Those are complicated messages, and in all those times that I wasn’t having any fun at all with you, I did have an opportunity to learn an enormous amount from you about all the complexity of communicating the beauty and the wonder of this great university and the people who work here and the things that we do here,” she said.

Almond told the crowd he was grateful for his time at Rice and cited a number of the research breakthroughs, rankings and successes that make the university both great and unique.

“Sharing those achievements, both with the Rice community and the external community, has been one of the most satisfying aspects of working in the news and media relations office,” Almond said.

He noted the dramatic changes that have occurred in Rice’s news and media relations office since he arrived in 2000.

“Rice News was a weekly, printed newspaper then,” he recalled. “We were limited on how many articles we could put in it, how long those articles could be and the timeliness of the stories.”

Since becoming an all-digital publication in March 2007, Rice News has dramatically increased story production, use of photography and digital imagery and incorporated video and social media. It reaches nearly 10,000 email subscribers each Monday.

Dateline Rice, another key publication from news and media relations, has undergone even more dramatic changes, Almond said. He said the daily emailed report of news stories mentioning Rice began as a weekly internal document that was prepared by hand on a photocopier for about 50 senior administrators.

“Even before she arrived (at Rice), Linda was asking me about developing Dateline,” Almond said, hefting an inch-thick sheaf of paper that was one of the final photocopied issues. “Linda wanted it to go digital, and she wanted it to go daily. And I have to admit, and I’ve told her this before, I was very skeptical we would have enough media coverage to fill a daily newsletter. If you’ve been reading Dateline Rice, you’ll know that was never a problem.”

Almond said the news and media relations team issued 435 news releases in 2017, about four times more than the year he became director, and Rice’s media mentions increased from 8,733 in 2007, the year Thrane arrived, to more than 99,000 in 2017.

Almond said getting media coverage of good news at Rice was the fun part of his job.

“The not-so-fun part is dealing with bad news and crises,” he said. “But what makes that aspect of the job manageable is the way the Rice community comes together when there’s a crisis.”

Almond cited the thrice-daily conference calls by Rice’s Crisis Management Team during Hurricane Harvey as one example among many.

He went on to thank each member of his staff by name before moving on to a larger list of Rice administrators and university staff who had been especially helpful in responding to timely media requests over the years.

“Mary Cronin set the bar high at her retirement reception, where she read a poem she had written mentioning the zillions of people that she wanted to acknowledge,” Almond said. “I can’t top that. So, I’ll just have to say thank you to everyone who’s ever responded to a request for information when I’ve had to deal with a media query or write an article for Rice News during my career.”

Saying he didn’t want the occasion to be a sad one, Almond closed with a few humorous anecdotes, including some of the infamous puns for which he was well known in Public Affairs.

He also recalled something that Ambassador Edward Djerejian, founding director of Rice’s Baker Institute for Public Policy, said to him shortly before becoming director of news and media relations.

“ABC News had come to his office for an interview, and the challenge was that the media kept calling him the former ambassador to Syria and Israel, and nobody ever heard that he was connected with Rice,” Almond recalled.

“After the interview, I asked the reporter to please mention that he’s the director of Rice University’s Baker Institute for Public Policy. The ambassador was still sitting there, and he knew I did this all the time, and he jokingly said, ‘I bet you don’t care what I say just as long as they mention Rice.'”

About Jade Boyd

Jade Boyd is science editor and associate director of news and media relations in Rice University's Office of Public Affairs.