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Obituary of Jerry Wamser, last serious Republican candidate for citywide office, dies at age 65

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, April 22, 2012 - Jerry Wamser,  a Republican who made his party's last serious challenge for St. Louis mayor and later led the St. Louis Election Board, died Saturday from a stroke. He was 65.

Wamser’s law partner, Lester Stuckmeyer, said that he became ill in their south St. Louis County office Friday afternoon and was taken by ambulance to St. Anthony’s Medical Center, where he remained until he died.

Wamser created quite a political stir in 1981, when — only 34 — he mounted a strong challenge for mayor against a youthful Democrat, Vincent C. Schoemehl Jr., who had just knocked off incumbent Mayor Jim Conway in the primary.

Schoemehl and Wamser engaged in a televised debate, then rare for a citywide contest, as they sparred over how best to revitalize the city.

Wamser lost by a 2-to-1 margin, although he carried much of the city's south side.  

He declined GOP encouragement to run for office again, but he remained active in Republican politics. In the 1980s, then-Gov. John Ashcroft named Wamser to head the St. Louis Board of Election Commissioners — where Wamser regularly attracted headlines with his complaints about bloated voter rolls and questionable voting practices.

But Wamser took care to avoid being cast as a verbal flame-thrower and  generally came across as an honest powerbroker speaking his mind. “He had a quick sharp humor that could be entertaining and, at the same time, biting,” said Stuckmeyer.

For the last 20 years, Wamser focused on his law practice while continuing to aid favored Republican candidates. He preferred to stay out of the limelight, except for the occasional role as a candidate’s fill-in at some Republican function.

Even when detailing some political concerns, Wamser always exuded the aura of a nice guy.

He was an active member of the Regional Salvation Army Board and was the chairman of the Salvation Army Gateway Citadel Corps Center Advisory Council.

“He was ‘George Bailey,’ “ Stuckmeyer said, referring to the title character in the movie “It’s A Wonderful Life.”

“He did everything for everybody, and never thought of himself. He was ‘the richest man in town.’ “

Wamser graduated from Affton High School, where he was the class valedictorian and was awarded a National Merit scholarship. He graduated Phi Beta Kappa from Washington University in St. Louis, with a bachelor's degree in political science.

He then served in the U.S. Army as an officer, achieving the rank of first lieutenant. He was sent to Vietnam, where he was awarded two
Bronze Stars.

After completing his service, Wamser returned to Washington University to attend law school. He was a member of the Law Review, and graduated in 1973.

Survivors include his widow, Jeanette.

Visitation is scheduled from 3-8 p.m., Wed., April 25 at John Ziegenhein & Sons Funeral Home, 4830 Lemay Ferry Road.

UPDATE: Funeral Mass is to be held at 10 a.m. Thursday, April 26, at St. Gabriel the Archangel Catholic Church, 6303 Nottingham Ave. End update

Wamser is to buried with full military honors at Jefferson Barracks National Cemetery.

Jo Mannies has been covering Missouri politics and government for almost four decades, much of that time as a reporter and columnist at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. She was the first woman to cover St. Louis City Hall, was the newspaper’s second woman sportswriter in its history, and spent four years in the Post-Dispatch Washington Bureau. She joined the St. Louis Beacon in 2009. She has won several local, regional and national awards, and has covered every president since Jimmy Carter. She scared fellow first-graders in the late 1950s when she showed them how close Alaska was to Russia and met Richard M. Nixon when she was in high school. She graduated from Valparaiso University in northwest Indiana, and was the daughter of a high school basketball coach. She is married and has two grown children, both lawyers. She’s a history and movie buff, cultivates a massive flower garden, and bakes banana bread regularly for her colleagues.