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Epilogue | Barry Sheldon Augenbraun

Prolific letter writer was also a Harvard-trained lawyer and scholar

GULFPORT — If you have been reading the editorial page of the St. Petersburg Times with any regularity, chances are excellent you have heard from Barry Augenbraun. During the past 15 years, the paper has published nearly 100 of Mr. Augenbraun's letters to the editor on subjects from the economy to the Middle East.

His letters also appeared in the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal, and he wrote many more letters than were published.

Mr. Augenbraun was a Harvard-trained lawyer and an engaged member of Congregation B'Nai Israel of St. Petersburg, where he taught classes on Jewish music, philosophy and history. The retired Raymond James executive favored shorts and golf shirts, and was in the process of driving an old Nissan into the ground.

Mr. Augenbraun died Tuesday, of prostate cancer. He was 72.

Often an essay or editorial triggered a letter. The first letter on file from Mr. Augenbraun to the paper, published in 1996, took historian and theologian Jacob Neusner to task for his view that religions reject each other's claims by definition.

"Neusner's model of intolerance and exclusivity is totally at variance with the spirit of religious pluralism that has made America a home for the faithful of all beliefs," Mr. Augenbraun wrote.

From there his output increased — three letters in 1998, five in 2000, 10 in 2003. He lamented the subtle cruelties of welfare, stressed the need to drill in Alaska, and praised an Islamic scholar who wrote that suicide bombers violate Islamic prohibitions against suicide and murder.

But the majority of Mr. Augenbraun's letters centered on Israel, often including a history lesson in a defense of Israeli government positions.

"Barry was a Jew through and through," said Rabbi Jacob Luski of Congregation B'nai Israel. "He loved to study and learn about his heritage."

To get around the Times' policy that the same letter writers not appear too frequently, Mr. Augenbraun sometimes submitted letters under assumed names, said Janet Augenbraun, his wife.

Born in the Bronx, Mr. Augenbraun was trained in Hebrew at Yeshiva University High School. He graduated summa cum laude from Columbia College. A fellowship brought him to the University of Cambridge in England, where he earned a master's degree in European history.

Mr. Augenbraun then earned a law degree from Harvard.

"You are talking about a man who had substantial intellectual power," said Eldon Clingan, a retired accountant in Dedham, Mass., who was once Mr. Augenbraun's debate-team partner at Columbia. "He knew a great deal, and he had a very thoughtful approach to public affairs."

Clingan, 73, is as liberal as Mr. Augenbraun was conservative, but the two men remained close for life. "We could raise our voices at each other," Clingan said. "But we never had a discussion that ended with one or the other of us putting down the phone in anger or anything like that."

Nor did Mr. Augenbraun mind that Janet Stearns, a teacher he married in 1965, is a registered Democrat. They traveled the world, raised a family and taught their children to love arts and music.

Mr. Augenbraun worked at several New York law firms, specializing in corporate and business law. Mr. Augenbraun moved to the Tampa Bay area in 1994, where he became general counsel of Home Shopping Network Inc. He left that job in 1996, a move HSN called a "mutual decision," and became vice president of risk management for Raymond James until his retirement six years ago.

Two years ago, cancer diagnosed in 1998 returned. He entered St. Anthony's Hospital Sept. 4. The oncologist that day, Dr. Robert Koch, told the family he thought Mr. Augenbraun's name sounded familiar.

Earlier that day, Koch told the family, he had been reading a letter in the newspaper taking on Princeton professor Cornel West and 1960s values in general.

The author was Barry Augenbraun. The letter was his last.

Researcher Natalie Watson contributed to this story. Andrew Meacham can be reached at (727) 892-2248 or ameacham@sptimes.com.

.Biography

Barry Sheldon Augenbraun

Born: May 26, 1939.

Died: Sept. 20, 2011.

Survivors: wife Janet; son William; daughter Leslie Goldman; brother Terry; sister Cooki Edelman; one grandchild.

Prolific letter writer was also a Harvard-trained lawyer and scholar 09/24/11 [Last modified: Saturday, September 24, 2011 7:14pm]
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