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Obituaries > STAVISKY, SAMUEL E.

Samuel E. Stavisky, 93, a Washington Post newsman who became a Marine Corps combat correspondent in World War II and later founded his own public relations firm, died Sept. 21 [2008] at Suburban Hospital after a heart attack.

Nine years ago, a decade after he retired, Mr. Stavisky published “Marine Combat Correspondent: World War II in the Pacific,” which retold the story of the small group of Marine writers in the Solomon Islands during some of the fiercest battles in the Pacific.

Mr. Stavisky, who had worked at the Washington Post as a reporter and assistant city editor starting in 1938, hadn’t planned to enlist until Brig. Gen. Robert L. Denig, head of the Marine’s public affairs office, came up with the idea of fighting journalists.

“Unable to see well without spectacles jammed to my nose, I hadn’t even considered trying to enlist with the Marines,” Mr. Stavisky wrote in his 1999 book.

“What little I knew about the Marine Corps, from a rare movie or magazine,” he added, “had made it obvious to me that the sharpshooting amphibious branch of the armed forces would have nothing to do with an applicant whose shooting skill was limited to shooting the breeze and whose killer instinct was limited to hammering the typewriter keys.”

Carrying both a military-issue rifle and a typewriter, “Denig’s Demons” fought first and wrote later. Mr. Stavisky’s stories from Guadalcanal included a first-person tale of fighting as a tail gunner on a bombing mission and a report on how Marine Corps tank companies destroyed Japanese machine gun nests.

His biggest story, he said, was the first interview with Capt. Joe Foss, the pilot whose 26 personal downings of enemy aircraft in World War II made him the second-ranking Marine Corps ace of the war.

The article was killed by a military censor, “as if the Japanese didn’t know they had lost those 26 planes,” Mr. Stavisky groused.

When he returned to the newspaper after the war, he covered the adjustment problems of veterans and the labor movement before switching to editorial writing. He also wrote a column, “People in the News.”

In 1954, he started a Washington-based public relations firm, Stavisky & Associates, which operated until 1989. On behalf of a client, he played a key role in getting congressional support for an international coffee agreement, which for more than 25 years stabilized the price of coffee coming from Latin America and Africa.

Samuel Elliot Stavisky was born in Chelsea, Mass., and worked at the Boston American newspaper while attending Boston University. After graduation, he worked at the Rochester (N.Y.) Journal and the Washington Herald before joining The Post in 1938. One of his first stories was a full-page piece on the 50,000 to 250,000 jobless who flooded into Washington during the Great Depression.

He told the E-Street Club, a group of old-time Post employees, about Halloween night in 1938 when Orson Welles broadcast “War of the Worlds,” a science fiction story of invading aliens.

“We were sitting around the City Desk as usual, discussing world affairs,” Mr. Stavisky told the group, according to its minutes. “Suddenly the phones began ringing like mad. It seems the aliens had landed in New York. No, they landed in New Jersey. No, they landed in Norfolk. No, it’s down in Miami.”

The front page of the next day’s paper carried a story, by another reporter, with the headline: “Monsters of Mars on a Meteor Stampede Radiotic America.”

He was a member of the National Press Club, the Public Relations Society of America, the Edgemoor Tennis Club and the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum.

Survivors include his wife of 61 years, Bernice Stavisky of Washington; two daughters, Robin Stavisky of Palo Alto, Calif., and Judy Stavisky of Wyncote, Pa.; and a grandson.