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Selwyn Pepper, award-winning Post-Dispatch reporter, dies

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon: September 5, 2008 - Selwyn Pepper, a member of reporter teams that earned three public service Pulitzer Prizes for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, died Thursday, Sept. 4, of infirmities at a retirement center in Overland Park, Kan. He was 93.

A graveside service and burial will be held at 2 p.m. Sept. 7, at Beth Hamedrosh Hagodol, 9125 Ladue Road, Ladue. Burial arrangements are by Berger Memorial, St. Louis.

The son of a paper carrier in St. Louis, Mr. Pepper fell in love with the many different language newspapers piled in his father's horse-drawn buggy used for deliveries.

"I began wondering who wrote those newspapers," he once told a Post-Dispatch reporter. "How did they gather the news? I decided working for a newspaper might be interesting. By the time I was 9, I had read every book on journalism at the Cabanne Branch Library (they filled one shelf). At Blewett Junior High, I got my first byline in the school paper. I was hooked."

As editor of his Soldan High School newspaper, Mr. Pepper wowed the then-St. Louis Post-Dispatch city editor with a feature on the editor's son. That led to a job offer at 16 to become a part-time reporter on Saturday nights for the paper. He stayed for 50 years.

Mr. Pepper graduated from Washington University with a degree in political science in 1935. He edited Student Life, the university paper, and began his full-time career with the Post-Dispatch.

As a reporter and rewrite man, he contributed to three Public Service Pulitzer Prize-winning projects exposing voter fraud (1937), safety problems that led to the Centralia, Ill. mine disaster (1948) and corruption in the nation's tax collection system (1952). He served as city editor, features editor, news editor and readers' advocate before retiring on Jan. 1, 1982.

One day before he was drafted in 1941, he married the late Naomi Pepper and was first assigned to Jefferson Barracks, where he edited the newspaper. After officer training in Miami, Mr. Pepper headed to the Southwest Pacific as a public relations officer on Gen. Douglas MacArthur's staff, escorting war correspondents and censoring stories. He served five years, leaving as a major in the Army Air Corps with a Bronze Star.

After a brief stint as a reporter for Time magazine in New York City, Mr. Pepper returned to the Post-Dispatch. He was a member of Sigma Delta Chi, a past president of the St. Louis Press Club and a lifetime member of B'nai Amoona.

Mr. and Mrs. Pepper moved to Overland Park four years ago to be near their daughter Miriam and her family. Mrs. Pepper died 10 months later. The two were married 63 years.

Mr. Pepper is also preceded in death by his parents, Nathan and Esther Pepper, St. Louis, his sister and brother-in-law Dorothy and Ben Smith, Los Angeles, and his brother and sister-in-law, Daniel and Gertrude Pepper, St. Louis, and his brother-in-law and sister-in-law, Paul and Helga Levy, St. Louis.

He is survived by his two daughters and sons-in-law, Lisa and Robert Gwyther, Chapel Hill, N.C., and Miriam Pepper and Richard Halliburton, Leawood; four grandchildren, Marni (James) Holder, Durham, N.C., Ryan (Chelsea) Gwyther, Pelham, Mass., Colin Halliburton, Lawrence, Kan., and Leah Halliburton, New York, N.Y.; four great grandchildren, Emma and Avery Gwyther and Elena and Aidan Holder.

The family requests no flowers and suggests memorial contributions may be sent to the National Multiple Sclerosis Society Mid America Chapter, 7611 State Line Road, Suite 100, Kansas City, Mo. 64114 to honor Mr. Pepper's late wife who lived with M.S. for 57 years, or Village Shalom, 5500 W. 123rd St., Overland Park, KS. 66209.

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