Spotlight: UI adjunct was once Bozo the Clown


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Roy Justis remembers the days when he wore a red nose and big shoes to work instead of a suit and tie.

In the 1960s, Justis — donning a bright blue suit with red hair jutting from each side of his head — entertained young children as Bozo the Clown in Waterloo.

Justis, now a University of Iowa adjunct journalism instructor, said he’s used his clown experiences in the classroom and throughout his career as a reporter.

“It’s the idea of making connections with your public in [the Bozo] role or making connections with the public in your role as a reporter,” the 70-year-old said. “There’s responsibility in each case, so don’t forget what your job is.”

He got his start in media as a rock and roll disc jockey at a Waterloo radio station in high school.

After graduating, he began entertaining live audiences of small children as the clown, interrupting his usually golden voice with a high-pitched, nasally Bozo impersonation.

The Baltimore native attended the University of Northern Iowa but never graduated.

“I got my degree in big nose and shoes,” he said, holding up an old photo of himself, dressed in the character’s signature attire.

Six days a week, he performed as Bozo in the afternoon and DJ’d at night. He also worked as a news anchor on weekends.

Justis married his high-school sweetheart, Rita, and said she used to transport him to appearances for Bozo the Clown.

“I had to drive because he had on the Bozo shoes,” Rita Justis said.

In the summer of 1968, Justis was able to ditch the clown shoes when he was offered two other jobs in journalism.

First, he received a call from Walter Cronkite’s producer, asking if he was interested in a job at WTOP, a radio station in Washington, D.C.

But he turned down life in Washington for Iowa City, a place he said he considers more suitable for raising a family. He took a radio reporting job at the local KXIC.

“Every day was different,” Justis said. “Every day was, ‘Gee, what can I find out today I didn’t know?’ ”

Then, after Justis quit his job at the station, the UI called and offered him the adjunct position.

He spent his first four years teaching Reporting and Writing but now focuses on sports journalism.

Justis said he tries to emphasize the importance of writing skills, networking, and relationships with sources. He said he tries to equip students with tools for finding a job after college.

“Bylines are great, you know, but you can’t spend them at Hy-Vee,” Justis said.

Rita Justis said her husband still closely monitors the news. Community members still “think of him as a responsible source for their information.”

Richard Johns, the former executive director of the UI Quill and Scroll program, called Justis “a dedicated, enthusiastic person.”

“I’m glad that Roy is having the opportunity to be involved and teach the course he’s teaching,” Johns said. “I know he’s got a lot to offer.”

And Justis connects that knowledge with his days as a clown.

“How do you take the clown makeup and put on the role of the clown and remember what your job was?” Justis said. “You hide behind this. You can sometimes hide behind your role as a reporter. It’s your job.”

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