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Paul N. Pohlman

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Paul N. Pohlman

St. Petersburg

Paul Pohlman, who taught business and media management and leadership around the world, died Wednesday, January 23, at the age of 70. Complications from abdominal surgery led to heart failure.

Born in Iowa farm country in 1942, Paul retained his Midwestern values and lifestyle even as his work carried him from the heartland to Chicago, Florida, New York, Norway, Bulgaria, and South Africa. He was considered an expert on listening, group dynamics, role clarification, coaching, and adult learning. His calm demeanor and warm grin made him a favorite among students and colleagues alike.

At the time of his passing, Paul was in his 25th year of working at The Poynter Institute, a school for journalism and democracy in St. Petersburg, Florida. Over the years, he fulfilled many roles at Poynter: teacher, discussion leader, timekeeper, advisor to the president, listener-in-chief, and director of international programs.

Paul Pohlman was born on June 15, 1942, in Sibley, Iowa, during World War II, the son of a first-generation German immigrant farmer, Elmer Pohlman, and a Swedish schoolteacher mother, Hilma Nelson. The family farm was near Melvin, Iowa, population 325. It was in that community that Paul learned to work hard and to be careful with his time and his money.

Over time the influence of his mother launched Paul into a life of learning and teaching. He was valedictorian at Sibley High School in 1960, first in a class of 55. In 1964 he graduated with honors from Iowa's Cornell College and then set off to the University of Chicago where in 1966 he earned a Masters Degree in History, with aspirations to teach history on the college level.

Instead he helped lead the adult learning division of the University of Chicago, where he taught and directed seminars in business and media management from 1969 to 1989, leading summer sessions at the school's program in Vail, Colorado. His influence began to grow as he was hired to consult on leadership and strategic issues with many media organizations and associations.

"Paul was our shepherd," wrote Stephen A. Rogers, editor and publisher of the Syracuse Post-Standard in New York, where Paul consulted three times a year for more than 30 years. "Whatever we may have accomplished came in large part from his wisdom, his encouragement and his love."

Outside of Poynter, Paul devoted himself to liberal politics and especially to the Pinellas County, Florida, chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, where he was considered a staunch advocate and reliable worker. Southern historian Ray Arsenault describes him as "the backbone" of the chapter. "A gentle soul with an uncommon wit, he also could be tough when he needed to be, especially when matters of principle and integrity were on the line."

"Paul will be remembered around the world," wrote his Poynter colleague Roy Peter Clark, "as a gentle man and a gentleman, a teacher who turned an unnatural act - listening - into a friendly craft. When someone truly listens to you - as Paul demonstrated time and again - that person becomes and remains fully present to you, and fully human."

Paul is survived by his brother Steven Pohlman and his sister-in-law Nancy of Dakota Dunes, South Dakota; by his nieces and their husbands: Amy (John) Pullis of Salem, Iowa; Andrea (special friend Adam) Vlahoulis of Indianola, Iowa; Jennifer (Jeff) Merryman of West Des Moines, Iowa; and Sarah (Kyle) Galloway of Iowa City, Iowa; and by the nieces' ten children, ranging in age from one month to 18 years.

Paul is also survived by his many colleagues and friends from the Poynter Institute and beyond with whom he worked and played.

A memorial service will be held at Poynter, 801 Third Street South, St. Petersburg, Florida, on Tuesday, January 29, at 4 p.m with Rev. Dr. Steven Pohlman officiating. A second memorial service will be held later in Iowa. (In lieu of flowers, donations can be made to the scholarship fund of the Poynter Institute.)

Published in Des Moines Register on Jan. 26, 2013
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