- Public Relations
I am writing to tell you the sad news that one of our most esteemed members, Chet Burger, passed away yesterday after a long battle with cancer. He was 90 years old.
Burger was our Hall of Fame Honoree in 1992. In his speech to accept the award, he said, "So you see very specifically how the Page Principles in action changed my life: the need to tell the truth; the need to be forthright; the need to communicate fully and freely; the need above all to serve the public interest. These Page Principles sound self-evident. But every professional knows they are not. In the Page tradition, you are practicing corporate public relations at its very best professional level. For that, I congratulate you, thank you, and thank you also for associating my name in this way with the man who gave so much to our nation. And I challenge you to examine your own company's public relations practices against the standards set by Arthur W. Page."
Burger's career had been one of legendary proportions, from being the country's first TV news reporter for the fledgling CBS network, to providing public relations counsel to America's leading corporations. Burger, who was honored by the U.S. Information Agency with its award "For Outstanding Service to the United States" in 1995, was instrumental in establishing public relations as a management discipline and integral part of the policymaking process of well-managed corporations. His insights and counsel were greatly prized by the owners and senior executives of public relations agencies small and large, earning him a title, "the counselors' counselor."
Burger joined the Columbia Broadcasting System in 1941 as a page boy. During World War II, he served in the U.S. Army Air Corps. He then returned to CBS as a "visualizer" (the first news readers) and developed methods for reporting world news on TV broadcasts in their early days. In April 1946, he became the nation's first television news reporter, and also served as the first president of the Radio-Newsreel-Television Working Press Association of New York.
Burger eventually became national manager of CBS Television News, then president of Communications Counselors, Inc. and later founded his own firm, Chester Burger and Co., Inc. During a 24-year period, his clients included American Bankers Association, Sears Roebuck, Minnesota Mining & Manufacturing, Communications Satellite Corporation, American Cancer Society, Occidental Petroleum Corporation, Texas Instruments, Inc. and Bell Canada. He was especially proud of his relationship with AT&T, where he was a consultant to management for 33 years. The Telephone Pioneers of America elected him an Honorary Member — one of only two persons honored who was not a former Bell System employee.
After what he called "retirement" in 1988, Burger became counsel to James E. Arnold Consultants, Inc., the successor firm to his company, and continued with a wide range of professional and volunteer work. In 1990, Burger became the first and "founding" chair of the PRSA College of Fellows and helped the organization shape its initial years. He served as an advisor for the office of public affairs to the Secretary of the U.S. Air Force. In August 2010, the secretary presented him with its highest civilian award. His relationship with the CIA continued for several decades culminating in multiple awards of recognition for meritorious service to the nation.
Giving back to the country was a Burger trademark. During the years of the civil rights movement, he served the National Urban League as an officer and member of its Board of Trustees. He was a founder of the Black Executive Exchange Program, and received the Outstanding Mentor Award for "21 years of counsel and support to minorities in public relations." The United Negro College Fund awarded him its Distinguished Service Citation.
He was the author of six books on management subjects, including The Chief Executive. And most recently, a book that reflected his lifelong passion for New York City and its history, Unexpected New York, featuring his photos and historical text, was published in 2007. His lifetime papers are in The Center for American History at The University of Texas in Austin.
Burger lived with his wife Elisabeth in the city where he was born, his beloved hometown of New York.
In January, The Page Society announced that we were partnering with The PRSA Foundation and the Institute for Public Relations (IPR) to provide the initial grants to establish the Chester Burger Scholarship for Excellence in Public Relations. The fund, which will award scholarships to graduate students in public relations beginning next fall, honors the achievement and leadership of Chester "Chet" Burger, one of America's leading and most honored public relations counselors.
The founding donors of the fund emphasized that Burger has long been considered one of the pre-eminent leaders in the public relations profession, literally shaping the discipline of public relations counseling at major global corporations, and was also revered for his personal dedication to generations of colleagues.
Pledges to the scholarship fund may be made to the PRSA Foundation by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
With kind regards,
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