A.W. Bramwell never meant to be a journalist. But when he died in 1977, he had been a newspaperman for more than 30 years. Of course he had also been a banker and a pharmacist during his life.
It was while he was a pharmacist that he became involved with the Chico Enterprise in the early 1940s. A friend, Chet Dahl, circulation manager of the afternoon newspaper, wanted to buy the paper after the death of its owner. But he needed financial help. So he sought out Bramwell.
That might have been the end of the matter, with Bramwell holding merely a financial interest in the newspaper. But when Dahl died in 1945, Bramwell had to take over.
His first need was an editor. He found one in A.H. “Al” Weibel, who had been editor of the McCook (Neb.) Gazette for many years. Weibel came to Chico and brought with him two brothers, Bill Lee to be city editor and Rob Lee to handle general news for The eight-page Chico Enterprise.
Thus, Bramwell had his team in place for a fight to the finish with the Chico Record, a morning newspaper owned by Stanley Beaubaire and the wealthy Keith Topping. The Chico Record owners were determined to “run the Enterprise out of town.”
Topping had come up with $100,000 for the endeavor against the afternoon newspaper. Beaubaire had subscribed to all three news services of that day: the Associated Press, United Press and International News Service.
Clearly, the odds seemed to favor the Chico Record at the outset. But after months and months of hard-nosed, head-to-head competition, it was the Chico Enterprise that emerged triumphant, buying out its rival in December 1947.
For a time, the morning and evening publications were continued in the 7th and Broadway building formerly occupied by a feed, seed and fertilizer store. But in 1948, the papers were merged into the single afternoon newspaper, the Chico Enterprise-Record.
Two years later, in July of 1950, Al Weibel died. This time, Bramwell bit the bullet, sold his pharmacy and took over as editor and publisher. He was to occupy that post for the next 27 years.
Although he had never sought the position, Bramwell took his leadership responsibilities seriously. He once said, “We are on trial every day we publish — our subscribers are the jury.”
On editorial policy he was adamant. Appearing before a critical committee of 36 at Chico State College in 1966, Bramwell said, “Enterprise-Record editorial policy is not — and never has been — a matter for negotiation.”
Bramwell insisted on complete objectivity in the news spaces, and he supported his staff against challenges and attempts at intimidation. As Bill Lee commented in Bramwell’s obituary, “The staffer dealing in facts had a fearless ally in A.W. Bramwell.”
But while he held fast to the rule of objectivity in the news columns, Bramwell fully utilized the subjective nature of the editorial page. A man of strong philosophical and political leanings, he never hesitated to emphasize Enterprise-Record viewpoints on matters of public interest.
A Republican by registration and a conservative by nature, Bramwell nevertheless manifested flexibility and tolerance that often handed endorsements to Democratic candidates and editorial support to liberal causes.
In fact, the battles which won three first-place editorial awards from the California Newspaper Publishers Association were waged on behalf of liberal causes.
The first prize-winning editorial campaign involved the Chico freeway battle in 1958. At that time, Highway 99, which ran through the middle of town, had become so crowded that the state highway commission approved construction of a freeway.
The price of property along the existing route made its purchase too expensive, according to the “benefit ratio” then used to determine freeway placement. Sheridan Avenue was the engineers’ first choice, but it was the site of many big homes of prominent citizens, who naturally didn’t want to lose them. Other citizens opposed the Bidwell Park crossing necessitated by that route.
The Enterprise-Record’s support of the Sheridan route brought pressure from businessmen, many of whom canceled their advertising. During the heat of the controversy, social pressure was also applied.
A campaign of vilification ensued. The Chico City Council, although aware that the Sheridan route was the only possible one, decided to make a token fight in an attempt to avoid offending prominent citizens.
But finally, the Butte County Board of Supervisors entered the fray in support of the Sheridan route, joining The Enterprise-Record’s campaign. Ultimately, that route was officially adopted by the state commission, and the freeway was constructed.
In 1962, Bramwell and The Enterprise-Record came to the defense of Dr. Beuel Gallagher, chancellor of the University of California, who was being accused of being a Communist sympathizer by church groups and others throughout the state.
After six weeks of investigation, The Enterprise-Record editorialized on behalf of Dr. Gallagher. Reprinted throughout the state, the editorial defense prompted apologies to Gallagher by many of his initial critics. But they came too late. Dr. Gallagher had resigned his position to accept the presidency of the City College of New York, one of the nation’s largest educational institutions.
In 1968, The Enterprise-Record won another statewide editorial award after coming out in support of the Short-Doyle mental health funding, a program backed by Butte County liberals but opposed by conservatives, many of them friends of Bramwell.
On two occasions, Bramwell was approached by county and area political leaders wanting him to serve in public office. When Assemblyman Don Hobbie of Oroville died in 1955, representatives of both parties urged Bramwell to seek the post. In 1962, after state Sen. Paul Byrne of Chico died, Bramwell was again urged to run. Bramwell declined in both instances, aware that the integrity of his newspaper would be blemished if he served in the Legislature.
Yet while disdaining legislative office, Bramwell nevertheless served his community, state and profession in numerous ways. For 17 years, he was a member of the advisory board at Chico State College, as it was then known. During, that time, the board helped formulate a campus master plan, assisted in the development of much-needed off- campus student housing and oversaw completion of many of the buildings called for in the master plan.
Bramwell served as president of the California Newspaper Publishers Association in 1961. He also belonged to the Masonic Press Club of Northern California and served a term as president during the 1960s. In addition, he held membership in the American Newspaper Publishers Association and the American Society of Newspaper Editors.
Bramwell was equally active in community affairs. He was president of the Chico Chamber of Commerce and the Chico Rotary Club and chairman of the Chico Airport Commission.
Bramwell was a charter member of the Sacramento Valley Irrigation Committee, formed in 1948, which ultimately achieved development of the canal system that has multiplied agricultural production in northern counties along the Sacramento River. He appealed before congressional committees in Washington as spokesman for the committee on numerous occasions.
In October 1977, commenting on the death of famed entertainer Bing Crosby, who had died in Spain after playing a round of golf, Bramwell said, “If you can live a vigorous and productive life and then can die a quick death while doing something you like, that is the way to go.”
A month later, in November 1977, Bramwell died at the wheel of his tractor after hand-cranking it into action while working on duck blinds at his ranch southwest of Chico. He was 73.
From the time of his birth, Nov. 18, 1904, in Coltman, Idaho, Bramwell had worked hard — seven days a week right up to the end — and had accomplished much. In the profession he had come to love, he had increased the circulation of his newspaper from 4,000 to more than 24,000 and had made it a respected voice in the community and the state. His had truly been a “vigorous and productive life.”
*Hall of Fame inductees are selected annually by a committee appointed by the California Press Foundation. They recognize career achievements of weekly and daily publishers in California who were important and influential in their era, as judged by their peers in the association. The write-ups are a historical and journalistic snapshot in time and not official biographies.*