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Austin Carl Wehrwein won Pulitzer for series on Canada


Obituary by AMY RABIDEAU SILVERS, 30 Apr 2008

"The same year that Ernest Hemingway won a Pulitzer Prize for "The Old Man and the Sea," business reporter Austin C. Wehrwein brought home a Pulitzer to The Milwaukee Journal.That was in 1953. Wehrwein won the prize for international reporting, writing a 25-part series called "Canada's New Century." Wehrwein died of natural causes Tuesday at home in St. Paul, Minn. He was 92.

Wehrwein traveled Canada coast to coast - by foot, train, plane and car - often writing on the run in hotel rooms. His stories told of Canadian economic development from the point of view of the everyday citizen. Wehrwein reported from the nation's wheat fields and pulpwood forests, new natural gas and oil fields, developing mine operations, the docks of Toronto and Montreal, and the port of Vancouver.

The series brought recognition of a neighbor and an economy that many Americans knew little about - and praise from Canadian officials, who hailed the series as "a most lucid and observant account" that could only help to "foster good relations between our two countries."

Wehrwein was born in Austin, Texas, and raised in Madison. By the time he graduated from Madison's West High School, all he wanted to do was be a newspaperman.

"Dad was one of those fortunate souls who envision what they want to do with their life as a young person and then pretty much manage to live out the dream," said his son, Peter Wehrwein.

Wehrwein studied economics at the University of Wisconsin in Madison, also working journalism jobs. That included serving as The Milwaukee Journal's university correspondent before graduation in 1937.

He graduated from Columbia Law School in 1940 and passed the Wisconsin bar, but headed back into newspaper work. Jobs included working in Madison for the Milwaukee Sentinel and for the United Press bureau in Washington, D.C.

From 1943 to 1946, he served with the U.S. Army Air Corps, including with the Stars and Stripes in China. He also worked in public affairs with the Marshall Plan in Britain, where he met and married the former Judith Oakes.

It was, Wehrwein said, "the brightest and best move I ever made."

By 1951, Wehrwein was hired by The Milwaukee Journal. By late in 1952, he was traveling Canada.

"This is not a personal honor," he said of the Pulitzer Prize. "It reflects, rather, the willingness of The Milwaukee Journal to turn a man loose on a big assignment, and to back him up."

Later in 1953, Wehrwein became a writer for Time magazine. He was chief of the New York Times' Chicago bureau from 1957 to 1966, and then an editorial writer for the Minneapolis Star until 1982.

"There were more newspapers, and they had scant competition from broadcasting," Wehrwein wrote in a memoir for family. "The pay was puny. Often hiring credentials were, too. Some very good reporters boasted that they never went to college, let alone pantywaist journalism school. . . . Working for a string of newspapers could be something to boast about."

"He took great pride in being a stringer and having regular bylines in the Washington Post, The Boston Globe, The Chronicle of Higher Education and, occasionally, The Progressive," his son said. "He might have been proudest of work that didn't carry a byline - an amazing 40-year run as a correspondent for The Economist, from 1958 to 1999."

Other survivors include his wife of 57 years; daughter Joanna; sons Sven and Paul; and grandchildren."

Date30 Apr 2008
PlaceMilwaukee Journal
Linked toAustin Carl Wehrwein, J.D.

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