Former Tribune Editor Will Fehr dies of heart failure
It was 1975 and late in the evening when The Salt Lake Tribune newsroom began to shake. After a few moments and a check of newsroom equipment, reporters began calling law enforcement and rescue agencies to determine the extent of the earthquake's damage throughout the state.
It was significant and communication systems were down.
But The Tribune's city editor, Will Fehr, calmly assigned reporters to cover specific aspects of the story and within two hours, the paper was ready to go to press with a comprehensive story woven together by the venerable newsman.
Fehr, who would rise to the position of editor before his retirement in 1991, died Sunday night of heart failure. He was 84.
"The thing that impressed me the most about Will Fehr was his calmness," said longtime colleague Mike Korologos. "He was cool under pressure, always laid back, even when a story was breaking. That is a great attribute."
"Insofar as any man can be truly objective in reportage of the news, that was Will Fehr," said former Tribune publisher Jack Gallivan. "Through all his years as a reporter and editor of The Salt Lake Tribune, he contributed largely to its reputation as one of America's great newspapers."
Fehr, a graduate of the University of Utah, joined The Salt Lake Tribune in 1947 as a copy boy. After his promotion to reporter, he covered several beats at the paper before being named city editor in 1964, managing editor in 1980 and editor in 1981.
He was admired by the news staff as a colleague and a confidante, but respected as the boss who always had the final word.
"I remember Will as a quiet man who had a wry sense of humor that could disarm you," said veteran Tribune reporter Tom Wharton. "He was an idealistic cynic, which might sound like an oxymoron. While he liked us to think he was cynical, he had a great heart and was idealistic about what journalism was all about. He was a passionate newspaperman who never lost his cool."
Along with his newspaper career, Fehr served in the Navy during World War II and the Air Force during the Korean War, where he worked as a writer for Voice of America, first from a base in Tripoli and later from Munich, Germany.
He was a great sportsman and loved to play tennis, golf and ski, said Cynthia Fehr, his wife of 59 years. "He always participated in the ski races sponsored by The Tribune, and we always had a good time watching him fall down right when the race would begin. We had a great life together."
Former Tribune reporter and columnist JoAnn Jacobsen-Wells credited Fehr with giving her a confidence she needed to cope as a 19-year-old college student working in a newsroom of crusty, cigar-chomping and often-profane veteran newsmen.
"Will Fehr was my mentor and friend, who taught me that, to be trusted by readers, a journalist must adhere to the highest standards," Jacobsen-Wells said. "He was held in the highest esteem by members of the news media as a true professional. But he showed his human side with his sensitivity to my feelings because I was so young."
She said when Fehr bawled her out for a mistake, he began the lecture with a compliment.
"You are a nice person and a good writer, but you can't spell worth a damn," Jacobsen-Wells remembers as a favorite line from Fehr. She remembers him writing poetry and sharing it with the staff while waiting for a deadline story.
Fehr, who was born March 8, 1926, was the recipient of the coveted Quintus C. Wilson Alumni Achievement Award from the University of Utah department of communications in 1986 and the National Guard Minuteman Award in 1985.
Besides his wife, he is survived by two children, Michael J. Fehr and his wife, Patience, of Missoula, Mont., and Martha Ann Fehr, Minneapolis, Minn. He also is survived by nine grandchildren and six great-grandchildren.
Funeral arrangements are pending from Evans and Early Mortuary in Salt Lake City.