(Reuters) - Pulitzer Prize winner Paul Ingrassia, a former managing editor of Reuters News who chronicled the ups and downs of the auto industry for more than 30 years, died on Monday after being treated for pancreatic cancer. He was 69.
He died at a hospital near his home in Naples, Florida, his brother Larry Ingrassia said.
Ingrassia served as Reuters managing editor for five years ending in 2016 after completing a 31-year career as a reporter, editor and executive at the Wall Street Journal and its parent company Dow Jones.
Reuters Editor-in-Chief Stephen J. Adler said: “Paul Ingrassia was a devoted, charming and utterly decent man who refused to let illness deflect him from his passions or deny us the immeasurable gift of his brilliance, humanity and love.”
Ingrassia shared the Pulitzer Prize for beat reporting with his Journal colleague Joseph B. White in 1993 for their often exclusive coverage of management turmoil at General Motors.
White, now Reuters global automotive industry editor, said that in 1992 GM issued a press release announcing a leadership shake-up after a series of deep quarterly losses.
“Paul saw immediately that there was a bigger story: That GM’s board of directors had rebelled, and were asserting control over the company after years of allowing the company’s CEOs to have their way. He and I began contacting sources, not just those on the winning side but those who had lost as well.
“Paul had cultivated relationships across the spectrum of GM’s fractious executive and middle management ranks, and people trusted that he would present their views fairly,” White said.
Born in Laurel, Mississippi, Ingrassia survived multiple forms of cancer. In accepting the Gerald Loeb Lifetime Achievement Award in 2016, he deadpanned: “I often think that my biggest lifetime achievement is simply having a lifetime.”
Larry Ingrassia, also a journalist, said he followed his older brother to the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. While Larry always thought of himself as a generalist, he said, “Paul was into cars. Once he got to Detroit, that was it.”
“He loved the fact that it was an industry that had larger-than-life characters ... He loved the idea that it encompassed everything about business and beyond: design and engineering and labour relations and great rivalries among the companies, and environmental issues and international trade issues. It was all those things that kind of really fascinated him,” the brother said.
Ingrassia wrote three books about the good and bad times of the auto industry.
In 1994 he co-wrote with White “Comeback: The Fall and Rise of the American Automobile Industry.” In 2010 he wrote “Crash Course: The American Automobile Industry’s Road from Glory to Disaster” and in 2012 “Engines of Change: A History of the American Dream in Fifteen Cars.”
“He called it as he saw it, he was thorough, fair, accurate, smart. He was in the business so long, he knew it. There was nothing he didn’t know about obscure people in the industry, or historical things,” Larry Ingrassia said.
When he died Paul Ingrassia had been serving as an editor and writer at the Revs Institute, an automotive history and research centre in Naples. A photo on its website shows him smiling on a sunny day while sitting on the hood of a shiny red BMW, the car dressed for Christmas as Rudolph with reindeer antlers and a bright red nose.
Adler recalled thinking when he met Ingrassia that he seemed earnest and strait-laced. “But he turned out to be nerdily funny, with a super-dry and sometimes corny sense of humour.”
At times Ingrassia’s impish sense of humour extended to making gentle fun of world leaders, including Russian President Vladimir Putin and former British Prime Minister Theresa May.
In 2014 he interviewed Sergio Marchionne, a former chief executive of Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV who died last year. After their onstage interview at the Brookings Institution in Washington, Ingrassia told Marchionne he was bound for Moscow to interview Putin.
“This means I’ll be interviewing two dictators in one week,” Ingrassia added.
In an “Ode to Brexit” penned in February for the journalism website Tortoise, Ingrassia wrote:
“The ruling class was roundly stunned,
How could this be? What have they done?
Cameron said, ‘I’m off, away!’
And entered then Theresa May.
She’s earnest and hardworking, too,
Alas, she also had no clue.”
Ingrassia leaves his wife Susie and two adult sons. Another son, Charlie, died of cancer at 39 this year.
New York Times columnist Bret Stephens, a friend of Ingrassia’s, said: “He was like my idea of what a great journalist is, completely self-effacing, incredibly and quietly knowledgeable, thoughtful in every way that counts - but above all as a human being and a man.”
“He was wise and courageous like few other human beings I’ve ever had the privilege of knowing,” Stephens said.
Editing by Howard Goller