RIP David Wiessler: “I Never Again Worked With His Equal”

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David and Judy Wiessler: She was the managing editor, he wanted an assignment.

David Wiessler, a longtime Washington journalist, political junkie, and baseball fan, died early Saturday at Suburban Hospital in Bethesda, Maryland, where he was being treated for an internal infection. He was 72.

Wiessler worked briefly for U.S. News & World Report and for Bloomberg News Service, but the bulk of his career was traditional wire service work, at United Press International and at Reuters. He joined UPI’s Dallas bureau in 1966, transferred to its headquarters in New York in 1969, and was promoted to Washington in 1973.

In the early morning hours of November 3, 1976, Wiessler, in “the slot” as the UPI Washington night editor, punched the send key on his computer and set off 10 bells ringing on teletype machines around the world:

FLASH
WASHINGTON — CARTER ELECTED PRESIDENT

The flash meant UPI had beaten all competitors with the news of Jimmy Carter’s victory.

In 1991, Wiessler was elected to membership in the Gridiron Club, an elite group of Washington journalists. He took part in the club’s white tie spring dinners, serving as music chairman for the club in 2010 and was a four-time skit chairman.

Wiessler had an encyclopedic knowledge of politics and delighted in the ins and outs of the Washington political scene. He was an exceptional wordsmith, but his greatest influence came in the editor’s slot where his cool head, sharp news judgment, and calm leadership helped shape the stories of the day and extract the best from the journalists with whom he worked. Colleagues described him as being instinctively able to take control in a crisis.

“He instilled a confidence that all would be well—even when it wasn’t,” said UPI colleague John Barton.

Wiessler was in the slot on March 30, 1981, running UPI’s Washington news report, when President Reagan was shot. Dean Reynolds, the White House reporter covering Reagan’s appearance at the Washington Hilton Hotel, called in with the breaking news.

“Dave silenced everyone and filed the bulletin,” recalled former UPI colleague Eliot Brenner who was working the desk that day. Wiessler turned to Brenner and another colleague, directed them to start taking dictation from Reynolds, “each of us a few sentences at a time, to ensure a steady flow of material for the wire.”

UPI’s coverage of the shooting was runner-up that year for the Pulitzer Price in national reporting.

“He always looked like he had just finished a cigarette or was about to start with one,” said Mike Feinsilber, who worked with Wiessler at UPI before joining the rival Associated Press. “He was calm and sensible, able to view the world’s misbehavior from a distance.”

David Nagy, who handled the writing on many of UPI’s big Washington stories from 1974 to 1979, said of his editor: “Dave was in a class by himself. He had an unerring eye for the lead, for color, and for the best quote. He was an action man but also super-smart. I never again worked with his equal.”

David Albert Wiessler was born in Cambridge, Massachusetts, on July 20, 1942. When David was six, his family moved to Allentown, Pennsylvania, and he developed a life-long affection for the Philadelphia Phillies that was transferred in the past decade—except when the two teams faced each other—to the Washington Nationals. One of his great joys was attending Nats games when the Phillies came to town.

Wiessler was a 1964 graduate of Princeton, where he majored in history, and then moved on to graduate school at the University of Texas. Soon after arriving in Austin, he spotted a notice on a bulletin board: the student newspaper, The Daily Texan, needed a reporter to cover a college basketball game. After an interview with the managing editor, Judy Burton, Wiessler got the job—and the girl. They married in 1968.

Judy Wiessler, who had been the deputy Washington bureau chief of the Houston Chronicle until her retirement in 1999, died in December 2013 of multiple sclerosis on what would have been the couple’s 44th wedding anniversary. Wiessler had been his wife’s caregiver since his retirement from Reuters in 2009.

David Wiessler is survived by his sister and brother-in-law, Barbara and Roger Pettis of Franklin, Massachusetts, and two nieces, Cindy Wegel of Boston and Lauren Wegel of New York.

Funeral arrangements are pending.
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Written by Cheryl Arvidson and edited by Ron Cohen, both long-time colleagues and friends of David Wiessler.

Comments

  1. Larry McQuillan says

    A wonderful tribute to a very special person. I was on the desk and was next to him when he filed the flash on Carter winning the presidency. It was exciting and rewarding, just like every other day spent next to him.

  2. Steve Lash says

    I had the great fortune to work for Judy at the Houston Chronicle and to speak with David on many occasions. They were a credit to the profession and a shining light to all they touched.

  3. Brenda & Doug Decker says

    Through Christmas mail we learned of David’s death….it was a shock…..David was a friend of my husband and the best man at our wedding….we were married in 1963. We knew Judy had MS but David would send us a note and we saw them when we visited DC. Getting old is not easy.

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