23 April 2012

Jerry Wamser, RIP

Update-- new report from the Post-Dispatch, that captures a bit of Jerry's inimitable style.

I spoke to Jerry in the last month or so after having gone more than a decade without having seen him.  He was a benefactor to me early in my work-related life, and I owe him a debt of gratitude.  He was bombastic, and sometimes over-the-top gung-ho, yet could laugh at himself as well as at the lunacies of life.  People liked and respected him because of his absolute sincerity and giving spirit.

Please pray for his soul.  From STL Today:

Jerry B. Wamser was the Republican Party's last serious contender for mayor of St. Louis — certainly its last spirited one. As chairman of the St. Louis Election Board, he'd sometimes burst into song while awaiting election results downtown.

Mr. Wamser died Saturday (April 21, 2012) at St. Anthony's Medical Center of a stroke he had suffered the previous afternoon in his law office in south St. Louis County. He was 65 and lived in St. Louis Hills.

Mr. Wamser made his only bid for elective office as the GOP mayoral candidate in 1981. A Republican hadn't been mayor since Aloys P. Kaufmann left office in 1949, but Wamser was energized by the election of President Ronald Reagan in 1980.

The Republican National Committee gave Wamser's campaign $7,000, an unusual bet on a city GOP candidate for the time.

Mr. Wamser ran hard against Democrat Vincent C. Schoemehl Jr., calling him "Diamond Vince" for his campaign promises. Schoemehl countered by referring to Mr. Wamser as "Chicken Little" for warning of shaky city finances.

Schoemehl won the general election by a 2-to-1 ratio in the lopsidedly Democratic city. Three months later, then-Gov. Christopher "Kit" Bond, a Republican, appointed Mr. Wamser chairman of the St. Louis Election Board, a position he held until 1989.

As chairman, Mr. Wamser was quotable. When it took 51 hours to count results of an election with a big write-in vote in 1983, he compared the ordeal to a "three-day tooth extraction." In 1989, he asked a judge to delay a primary because of a snowstorm, saying the election board "didn't want to be the source of 200 broken hips." The judge refused.

On election nights, he was known to sing in a full baritone while awaiting results at the board office, then across Tucker Boulevard from City Hall.

Leo Garvin, board attorney for part of Mr. Wamser's chairmanship, called him a "larger-than-life personality who enjoyed the politics and the process of government. He worked hard to make elections fair. And he knew how to take the kidding well," Garvin said, referring to the blunt exchanges of city politics.
Mr. Wamser grew up in Affton and was valedictorian at Affton High School in 1964. He graduated from Washington University, joined the Army and served one year in Vietnam as a lieutenant. He graduated from Washington University School of Law in 1973.

In 1978, he married Jeanette Altepeter of Clayton.

Mr. Wamser practiced general civil law for almost 40 years. In 2005, he returned to the Election Board as counsel and served until 2011, two years into the administration of Gov. Jay Nixon, a Democrat. Gary Stoff, the board's Republican director of elections, called Mr. Wamser "vigilant and passionate about the integrity of our elections."

From 1989 to 1998, he was on the Board of Trustees of Fontbonne University, his wife's alma mater.

Visitation will be from 3 to 8 p.m. Wednesday at John L. Ziegenhein & Sons Funeral Home, 4830 Lemay Ferry Road. A funeral Mass will be celebrated at 10 a.m. Thursday at St. Gabriel the Archangel Catholic Church, 6303 Nottingham Avenue, followed by burial at Jefferson Barracks National Cemetery.

Survivors include his wife.
Previous report below:
From STLToday:

Jerry Boyd Wamser, a distinguished lawyer in St. Louis for almost four decades, passed away on April 21, 2012. He was 65 years of age. He is survived by his wife of 34 years, Jeanette Wamser.

Jerry was the valedictorian of Affton High School class of 1964. He was a National Merit Scholar and graduated Phi Beta Kappa from Washington University in St. Louis with a BA in Political Science. After undergraduate school, he served in the U.S. Army with service in Vietnam from 1968 to 1970. While servings as a First Lieutenant in Vietnam, he was a War Advisor to the 23d Vietnamese Infantry Division where he was awarded two Bronze Stars.

When he returned from service, Jerry went to law school at Washington University. While there, he was a member of the Law Review, Order of the Coif and graduated in 1973. He practiced law in St. Louis for almost 40 years.

Among his numerous professional achievements was his 1981 campaign as the Republican Candidate for Mayor of the City of St. Louis. Although he did not win, his love of politics and “Good Government” led him to be appointed by two successive governors to two terms as Chairman of the City of St. Louis Board of Election Commissioners. As Chairman, he worked tirelessly to combat voter fraud and ensure free and fair elections in the City of St. Louis.

Jerry’s public service continued all of his life. He volunteered until his death for the Salvation Army. He was a current member of the Regional Salvation Army Board and the Chairman of the Salvation Army Gateway Citadel Corps Center Advisory Council. As chairman and board member, he helped lead efforts to renovate the Corps Center. Jerry was also a member of the Board of Trustees of Fontbonne University (Jeanette’s alma mater) from 1989-1998. He was a member of the Downtown Lions Club in the ’70s. Jerry also helped raise funds for the United Way, Greater St. Louis Area Boy Scouts, and numerous other charitable organizations. Service to others defined Jerry Wamser.

Jerry Wamser was an extraordinary husband, colleague, mentor, and friend. He left his mark on scores of people all over the world and exemplified service over self. If there was ever a man who most typified the fictional character of George Bailey from “It’s a Wonderful Life,” it was Jerry Wamser. Whenever asked how he was doing, he would reply, “Life is Good.” Yes, Life is Good and he leaves this world a better place.

A Memorial will be held on Wednesday, April 25, 2012 from 3 p.m. to 8 p.m. at John L. Ziegengein & Sons located at 4830 Lemay Ferry Road.

Funeral Mass will tentatively be held at 10 a.m. on Thursday, April 26, 2012 at St. Gabriel the Archangel Catholic Church located at 6303 Nottingham Ave.

Interment with full military honors will follow at Jefferson Barracks National Cemetery.


Alison said...

He really threw his hat in the ring in politics in St. Louis. Must have been a real fighter. May Our Lord grant him Eternal Peace. Sorry for your loss. We will pray for his soul and strength for his friends and family.

YoungCatholicSTL said...

I had the pleasure of conducting business with him over the phone a few times, and as he was the former boss of one of my bosses, I was fortunate to hear many stories about him. A good man who will be missed in the STL legal community.

Anonymous said...

Sorry to hear of Jerry's unexpected passing. He was a prince of a guy. When I lived in the City, he encouraged me to run for State Rep as a Republican. I won only about a third of the vote, but made some noise and had a lot of fun. Jerry also referred some clients to me, his way of saying thanks.

Calling someone "larger than life" is sort of cliched, but it really applied to Jerry.