Selwyn Pepper co-founded ‘Light’

BY ROBERT A. COHN, EDITOR-IN-CHIEF EMERITUS

Selwyn Pepper, a longtime St. Louis Post-Dispatch report and editor, credited with helping the newspaper win three Pulitzer Prizes, and one of the co-founders of the St. Louis Jewish Light, died Thursday, Sept. 4, 2008, at a retirement home in Overland Park, Kan., two weeks after suffering a stroke. He was 93 and had been a longtime resident of Clayton before moving to the Kansas City area four years ago.

The obituary in last Saturday’s Post-Dispatch points out that in his 50-year history at the newspaper, Mr. Pepper served as city editor, features editor, news editor and reader’s advocate. He was also an advisor and mentor to many generations of journalists and colleagues in all areas of the local media. Along with the late Morris Pearlmutter, Alfred Fleishman, Harold Hartogensis, Phyllis Hausfater and Sam Krupnick, Mr. Pepper was among the founders of the St. Louis Jewish Light, when it became an autonomous publication in 1963. He remained interested in the Jewish Light throughout his career and was always available for advice and counsel to the editors and board of the publication.

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As a reporter and rewrite man, Mr. Pepper worked on three stories — on voter fraud, corruption in the Internal Revenue Bureau and the Centralia, Ill. mine disaster and its causes — that won the Pulitzer Prize for public service.

The son of a paper carrier in St. Louis, Mr. Pepper fell in love with newspapers at an early age.

“By the time I was 9, I had read every book on journalism at the Cabanne Branch Library,” Mr. Pepper wrote in his first Reader’s Advocate column in 1979. “At Blewett Junior High, I got my first byline in the school paper. I was hooked.”

As editor of his Soldan High School newspaper, he impressed the Post-Dispatch city editor’s son, according to the paper’s obituary. That led to a part-time job offer as a reporter, at age 16.

Mr. Pepper received his bachelor’s degree from Washington University, and was editor of its newspaper, Student Life. He worked weekends at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. His Saturday night beat was City Hospital, covering the results of crime and violence that often ended up there.

“There was even a period of some months when I phoned in stories from City Hospital, and then, about six hours later, helped my father on his route, delivering papers with stories I had covered,” he said in a 1981 story on his retirement.

Mr. Pepper served five years in the Army Air Forces, part of it in the Southwest Pacific as a press officer on the staff of Gen. Douglas MacArthur.

Mr. Pepper was a past president of the Press Club of Metropolitan St. Louis and received the Journalism Foundation’s Lifetime Achievement Award in 1986.

A graveside service and burial were held last Sunday at Beth Hamedrosh Hagodol Cemetery on Ladue Road.

Among the survivors are two daughters, Lisa Gwyther of Chapel Hill, N.C., and Miriam Pepper of Leawood, Kan.; four grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.

His wife of 63 years, Naomi Pepper, died in 2004.

Memorial contributions may be made to the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, Mid-America Chapter, 7611 State Line Road, Suite 100, Kansas City, MO 64114., or Village Shalom, 5500 West 123rd Street, Overland Park, KS 66209.