Paul Alexander Wagner died at home December 23, 2015 with his beloved wife of 50 years, Jeanette Sarkisian, at his side. Born in Chicago on September 10, 1917, Mr. Wagner was the only child of Elizabeth Bowden Wagner and Paul August Wagner.
He earned a bachelor’s degree at the University of Chicago under the leadership of Robert Hutchins. Mr. Wagner credited Mr. Hutchins with the principles and ideals that informed his own values and standards.
Mr. Wagner added a master’s degree at Yale, and received an honorary doctorate from the Stetson University College of Law. Throughout his life his work focused on education and global communications in a pluralistic society.
A lieutenant commander in the Navy during World War II, he was an education advisor at the Naval War College. After the war he taught at the University of Chicago and Columbia University. While a senior executive at Bell and Howell, he advocated the importance of using new techniques — audio and video — in education. At the age of 31 he was selected as the president of Rollins College in Florida, and was the youngest head of a college in the U.S. His mission: educate generalists — male and female — who could love poetry and sports, math and science, and great books.
Mr. Wagner was the founding CEO of the Film Council of America — a Ford Foundation grantee. The organization supported the development of audiovisual educational tools, including documentary and educational films.
Mr. Wagner was a pioneer in the public relations profession. As a senior executive, he led the global education practice of Hill and Knowlton, the world’s largest public relations organization. In the seventies, he founded his own public relations company — NPO Taskforce — to expand the work solely in the non-profit area.
Upon his wife’s retirement in 1999 as the vice chairman of The Estee Lauder Companies, they formed a pro bono group — Nulli Secundus Associates — to aid clients from the non-profit world in the development of their strategies to be executed to success. They served many groups at no fee.
Mr. Wagner was a member of The Union League Club, The Yale Club, The Harvard Club, The Naval War College Foundation, and The University of Chicago Emeriti.
In addition to his wife, he is survived by his daughter Paula A. Wagner, his son Paul A. Wagner III, and his daughter-in-law Helga Maurer Wagner.
His many friends all write that “an extraordinary human being is gone.” “His smile lit the room. His laughed filled the room.”
Mr. Wagner loved his home and his friends in Sag Harbor. The family suggests that memorial gifts be directed to the Paul A. Wagner Scholar’s Study, and The Paul A. Wagner Children’s Room at the John Jermain Memorial Library, Director, Catherine Creedon, 201 Main Street, Sag Harbor, NY 11963.