Celebrating the Life and Legacy of Jack Koten

Jack Koten

The life of public relations legend Jack Koten was celebrated by family and friends last Saturday at a memorial service on the campus of his beloved alma mater, North Central College in Naperville, Illinois.

Jack, who passed away in early January, was a friend and mentor to many, including me. Jack was a visionary leader in the practice of public relations and support of the arts.

Jack’s entire career was spent at Ameritech and its Bell predecessors. Beginning in 1955 as an editorial assistant at Illinois Bell, Jack became one of the nation’s most influential public relations executives. Upon his retirement in 1994, Jack was senior vice president of Ameritech and president of its foundation.

After the breakup of the Bell System some 30 years ago, it was Jack’s idea for communications leaders of the divested “Baby Bells” to continue meeting informally. They named the group after Arthur W. Page, the first public relations vice president of AT&T. Formed in 1983, the Arthur W. Page Society soon expanded its membership to include chief communications officers of other major corporations. Jack became the first president of the Arthur W. Page Society. Most of us also considered him to be the guiding light and conscience of the organization, which now includes heads of international agencies and prominent educators.

Jack and his Page colleagues helped raise the standards and respect for public relations in the C-suite. “Jack believed very strongly that companies have an obligation to create not just customer and shareholder value, but broad societal value,” said Roger Bolton, president of the Arthur W. Page Society. “You have to build an enterprise that’s worthy of trust,” Bolton said. “That’s what Page was all about and that’s what Jack was all about.”

The late Betsy Plank turned to Jack when she decided to establish the Plank Center for Leadership in Public Relations nearly 10 years ago. Jack helped lead the successful launch of the Plank Center, and he followed Betsy as chairman upon her death in 2010. Like Betsy, Jack was an advocate of the Plank Center’s goal to increase collaboration between academics and practitioners to help advance the profession. They also promoted the importance of mentoring.

While Jack was devoted to his family, his alma mater, the Page Society and the Plank Center, Jack’s other passion was the arts. Elizabeth Hurley, now VP for development and public affairs at the Julliard School in New York, worked with Jack and Ameritech when she held top development jobs at the Art Institute of Chicago and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. Elizabeth spoke at the memorial service, noting that Jack “showed American business how they could invest in the arts, how it was good for the community, good for employees, good for customers.” She said Jack showed other companies the value of investing in the arts.

Speaking at Jack’s memorial, Page Society President Roger Bolton said, “Whenever I think of my friend, I remember an unapolgetic optimist who dedicated his life to integrity and believed business at its best — quoting Jack now — ‘empowers people to achieve noble objectives and serves as a role model of ethical behavior for people everywhere on this earth.’ That’s a legacy worth celebrating. And worth remembering.”

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