Very few people can stand prosperity,” reads the framed letter hanging on August Uihlein Pabst’s office wall. “That is why the third generation, brought up in comparative wealth, is apt to go to the bow-wows.” It is a warning from none other than Pabst’s paternal grandfather Frederick, son of the Great Lakes steamship captain who started putting the family name on beer in 1889.
“Augie” Pabst is actually fourth-generation, but at 42 he nonetheless is out to disprove his grandfather’s theory. Once a champion race car driver and married three times, Pabst in recent years has settled down to business. He is a vice-president of the brewery and heir apparent to company board chairman James Windham. Augie is also a driving force behind efforts to revitalize downtown Milwaukee. His latest civic achievement is to refurbish (at a cost of $2.5 million) the Pabst Theater, a national historic landmark that was originally purchased by the old captain in 1890.
“I could just clip coupons,” Pabst concedes. “But I need the respect. And I need to set a good example for the children.” No small job. The Pabst brood includes Augie’s two children by his first marriage—Jim, a 21-year-old University of Minnesota senior, and Christina, 20, who will soon make Augie a grandfather—plus third wife Joan’s five teenagers from her previous marriage. The Pabsts also have two toddlers of their own, 3-year-old Augie III and Jenny, almost 2.
It’s fortunate that Augie inherited his grandfather Frederick’s huge exurban mansion. Six of the children are still at home. “I don’t know if it has 34 or 35 rooms,” says Joan, who manages with only a twice-weekly cleaning lady. “They go on and on. I want my tombstone to read, ‘She wasn’t Superwoman, but she loved her kids and she worked her butt off.’ ”
Augie was a great favorite of old Frederick, perhaps because the boy’s father died when he was less than a year old. He and his mother, Eugenie, occupied a small house down the lane from the doting granddad and his wife, Schlitz heiress Ida Uihlein Pabst.
In the 1940s and early ’50s the Pabst brewery was one of the country’s largest, but by 1958 the family had lost control and financial problems nearly ruined the business. The Pabsts lost a proxy fight, and Augie, who had worked his way up from the loading dock at the brewery, turned to road racing. He was named U.S. Auto Club Champion in 1959 and three years later narrowly escaped death in a spectacular crash at Daytona. Soon after, Pabst was in Indianapolis sizing up the track for the Memorial Day race. “My mind was going around,” he recalls, “looking for an excuse not to enter. I wasn’t smart enough to say, ‘I’m getting scared and I want out.’ ”
Jim Windham gave Augie the excuse he was looking for. A crusty Southerner who earlier had saved the ailing Blatz brewery, Windham was already turning Pabst around when he asked Augie to rejoin the company in 1966. Windham’s conditions: that Pabst give up both racing and his foreign car agency. “I wasn’t going to waste my time on him and let him get broke-up again,” Windham explains.
Pabst is grateful for the opportunity. “Can you imagine what it means to be invited back with a chance someday to run the company your forebears founded?” Today most of the workers on the day shift are first-name friends from his loading dock days. “Augie is very sentimental about his family,” Windham says. “I’m proud of him for it.”