There are several candidates for the title "Father of PR." Arthur Page is one for sure. If there were an election for the "Mother of PR," Marilyn Laurie would almost certainly be in the front of the field. Back in 1969, she was a stay-at-home Mom, raising two young girls in Brooklyn. Within a year, she was one of five people who literally took over Fifth Avenue to launch what would become an annual celebration called Earth Day.
A year after that, she had an entry-level management job at AT&T, charged with developing environmental programs for the company's employees. Less than a decade later, her energy, creativity, and intellect had positioned her to assume one of the company's most challenging PR jobs, at a division where the clients were super-smart and super-demanding. In fact, several other PR managers had passed on the assignment. When the then Chairman of AT&T, Charlie Brown, heard about it, he reportedly said, "Ask Marilyn. She's not afraid of anything." By 1987, she was running AT&T's entire 500-person PR department and had become the highest-ranking woman in the company's history
Marilyn was my colleague or my boss at AT&T for more than three decades. She was a constant source of energy, a reliable sounding board, and a loyal friend. She pushed us relentlessly to come up with what she called "Big Ideas" and gave us every resource available when we had one. She had rock-solid judgment and an uncanny ability to approach the thorniest problem orthogonally, finding the perfect solution. Of course, not every problem AT&T faced had a solution, and few PR people have navigated more tumultuous times. But Marilyn did it with grace and good humor.
She energized the people around her and supported them when times were toughest. Those of us who worked with her will probably never know the full extent of her support. Executive suites can be unfriendly places, especially for those of us responsible for telling truth to upper management and dubious boards, but she was always a caring and understanding boss. As Charlie Brown said, she was fearless, even if it meant convincing a skeptical CEO that he "absolutely had to stop what he was doing and pay attention to a developing business problem." Marilyn was not of the "word-smithing, pitching, and spinning" world of PR. She was a savvy business person who believed a company's reputation depended on what it did, not on what it said. She really was the embodiment of the Page Principles.
Writing this, I realize how much I will miss her. But I also see her in dozens of PR people who have assumed leadership positions not only at AT&T but in the non-profit sector and at industries as diverse as pharmaceuticals and accounting. The Mother of PR's children are doing well. That may be her greatest legacy.
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