SMU Community, Colleagues Remember Slain Journalist

Brent Renaud, known as a kind, compassionate mentor, killed in Ukraine

Members of the SMU community remember Brent Renaud, an award-winning journalist and filmmaker killed while covering the war in Ukraine, as a “kind” and “compassionate” alumnus who mentored at-risk children in Dallas.

His family is also taking donations via a GoFundMe page to start the Brent Renaud Journalism Foundation, a nonprofit with the primary mission of providing scholarships for aspiring journalists. The effort raised $33,521 as of Thursday morning.

Renaud, 50, graduated from SMU in 1994 with a major in English and a minor in sociology, spokeswoman Kimberly Cobb confirmed.

According to Ukrainian authorities, the Little Rock, Arkansas-native was fatally shot March 13 in Irpin, a suburb of the Ukrainian capital Kyiv. Renaud had worked for numerous media organizations. At the time of his death, though, he was working on a TIME Studios project “focused on the global refugee crisis,” TIME executives confirmed.

“His death is a reminder to us of the danger that exists to tell these important stories,” said Society of Professional Journalists International Community co-chair Elle Toussi. “We are all diminished by his passing.”

“A talented and brave journalist, Brent lost his life while documenting human tragedy, devastation, and suffering of millions of Ukrainians,” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said. “With all his courage and determination, he traveled to the most dangerous war zones to film the unprecedented ruthlessness and evil, also inflicted upon our nation by the aggressor state.”

Members of the SMU community say the empathy shown in his work was evident during his time at the university.

While at SMU, Renaud was part of the Inter-Community Experience program, in which he lived with other students in a Habitat for Humanity home, volunteering and working with children in an Old East Dallas neighborhood.

Bruce Levy, the SMU professor who ran the program, said Renaud was important to growing that program.

“(He was) very kind and compassionate … he was all in,” Levy recalled. “The kids loved him.”

Thear Suzuki took part in the program with Renaud as an SMU student and remembered him as “very worldly” and “conscientious about people who were suffering or lacking access to opportunity.”

“He loved getting to know the kids and their families. He would always go the extra mile,” Suzuki said. “I learned from him in terms of how to serve (others).”

She said they kept in touch over the years, and he told her about some of his projects.

“What was shocking about the news is I knew he would go into dangerous areas to do his work, but he always came back,” Suzuki said. “We had great memories of him. He is so loved, and he loved us.”

PHOTO: Courtesy Thear Suzuki

With his brother, Craig Renaud, Brent won a Peabody Award in 2014 for Last Chance High, a series about a school for at-risk children in Chicago. The brothers’ achievements also include two duPont-Columbia journalism awards and productions for HBO, NBC, Discovery, PBS, The New York Times, and VICE News, the Dallas Morning News reported.

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Rachel Snyder

Rachel Snyder, former deputy editor at People Newspapers, joined the staff in 2019, returning to her native Dallas-Fort Worth after starting her career at community newspapers in Oklahoma. One of her stories won first place in its category in the Oklahoma Press Association’s Better Newspaper Contest in 2018. She’s a fan of puns and community journalism, not necessarily in that order.

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