MILWAUKEE — Art Srb, a longtime political reporter who helped lead the Madison bureau of The Associated Press for 28 years, died of complications related to Alzheimer's disease, his daughter said Saturday. He was 81.
Srb was known as a relentless reporter who earned the respect of lawmakers and journalists. He always said his philosophy was to work hard and be fair.
"Don't get between the newsmakers and the public. Just be a conduit," he told The Capital Times in 1995, a week before he retired. "Let the story tell itself, if you can."
He died Friday at a veterans' home in Waupaca, said his daughter, Deborah Srb Hardaway.
Arthur L. Srb grew up in Nebraska, the younger brother of a star student and athlete, Hardaway said. To escape the constant comparisons, he enlisted in the U.S. Navy and served in the Korean War, where he developed his love of writing, Hardaway said.
Srb began his journalism career in 1954, reporting for three Midwestern United Press International bureaus before joining the AP in 1956.
Hardaway recalled family dinners in which her father would quiz her on current events, first asking her opinion and then forcing her to defend the opposite position.
"He always taught me to see that there's more than one side to any issue," she said.
She remembered her father as a man of integrity, whose goal was to relate the news with honesty and without embellishment.
Srb earned the playful nickname "owl without a vowel" for his last name, but was all business when it came to reporting.
Former Gov. Tommy Thompson became Assembly minority leader in 1981, overlapping with Srb's 28 years in the Capitol press room. Thompson remembered Srb as a gentleman, remaining personable and friendly even while grilling lawmakers with difficult questions.
"Somehow if the minority was going to do something, he'd sniff it out and ask me about it," Thompson said. "More often than not I'd say, 'How the hell did you know that, Art?' And he'd have that little twinkle in his eye, that smile on his face, and you knew he wouldn't tell you. He knew he had you in a predicament and he wouldn't let you go 'till he got his answer."
Srb had said he was especially proud of an investigative series about teachers who were sex offenders, a series that won him a national AP award. The stories prompted the Wisconsin Legislature to pass a law requiring districts to report sex-offense convictions to the state.
State Sen. Fred Risser, who was first elected in 1956, knew Srb during his entire Madison tenure. He said Srb was universally respected for his work ethic and for maintaining his sources' confidence.
"If we asked him to keep something to himself, he always did," Risser said. "I had the deepest respect for him. I think everyone did."
Srb is survived by his former wife, his daughter, a grandson and great-granddaughter. Funeral arrangements were pending.
Dinesh Ramde can be reached at dramde(at)ap.org.