I was 16 years old. I had won an essay contest on the topic “What does the West Point Manufacturing Company mean to me?”
The West Point Manufacturing Company was the company that owned the town I lived in. My essay was about how the local cotton mill—where my father worked for 49 years, and where I was already working part-time—about how the mill gave us all the benefits that we enjoyed…the schools, the gym, the local water supply, the picture show.
What I remember from the award ceremony was two things.
One, how scared I was because I had to stand up in front of an audience and say thank you for the recognition – and the prize money, which was a $25 U.S. Government bond.
And, two, how impressed I was with this one guy there who seemed to be in charge of things.
He set up the mike on this little stage at the picture show, he told me and he told the boss of the mill where to stand, he told the photographer how to take the picture of us, he told this young woman who was his assistant to get my name and phone number in case he needed to call me, and he told me to look for the next issue of our local weekly newspaper…that my picture would be on page one.
You can probably guess who that guy was. But I didn’t know, and I asked my Dad. He said, “That’s the company’s publicity guy.”
Here’s the journey taken since that life-changing experience:
- Native of Alabama, majored in journalism at the University of Alabama, editor of University newspaper, honored in 1954 as the university’s outstanding journalism graduate (SDX Award)
- Newspaper reporter in Alabama and Georgia, covering local and state politics.
Press secretary to Member of Congress (Rep. Kenneth Roberts, Democrat, Alabama), in Washington, DC; staff work on House Commerce Committee Traffic Safety Subcommittee.
- Co-organizer of the Senate Press Secretaries Club, after working in John F. Kennedy campaign in 1960.
Public relations director of chemical industry trade association, in D.C.; in 1964, named as the first “environmental information officer” in American business.
- Corporate VP (the job now called “chief communications officer”) of an international mining company (now Freeport McMoran), headquartered in New York, responsible for government, investor and public relations; then, in 1970, with additional title of VP, Freeport Indonesia, managed international government and public relations in the company’s large Indonesia mine launch.
- Starting in 1973, built an agency headquartered in Washington, which grew to six offices in major U.S. and foreign cities, with emphasis on environmental and energy issues; sold to Ruder Finn in 1997.
- Continues to serve as facilitator/owner of EnviroComm, consultancy of green business pros (see www.envirocomm.com) which in its earlier years as part of EBH Company, operated in the U.S., Mexico, Canada and six European countries.
- Member of the Arthur W. Page Society for 20 years, serving as Board member, Secretary and first Executive Director, under Bill Nielsen as president; chaired conference panels, task forces, now contributes to Page blogs.
- Honors include the 2001 Betsy Plank Distinguished Achievement Award, University of Alabama, PRSA (chairman Counselors Academy, member, College of Fellows, elected in 2000 to Washington PR Hall of Fame), named to PRWeek’s “100 most influential public relations professionals, 20th Century”; AP Radio Journalism Award; Society of Professional Journalists national award for co-chairing First Amendment campaign; National Press Club, distinguished service recognition.
- Writer, frequent contributor to newspapers, magazines, online news channels (PR Week, Reputation Management, Holmes, O’Dwyer’s and general business); author of three books including current Corporate Greening 2.0.
Communications counsel to CEOs participating at UN Conference (‘Earth Summit’) in 1992; presented paper on new concept of “Sustainable Communications” on a communications panel; subsequently authored the Gold Paper on Environmental Communications published by International PR Association.
- Peer-reviewed articles on public relations and environmental communications have been published in Corporate Communications:International Journal (Vol. 14, No.3, 2009); Air and Waste Management Association Journal (2009).
- Served as chairman of Environment Committee, International PR Association. Active for 50 years in PRSA, officer in both NY and DC chapters, organized panels and spoke at national conferences; chairman, PRSA Counselors Academy in 1990.
- Guest lecturer on public relations subjects at George Washington, Georgetown, University of Maryland, American University (all in the D.C. area), University of South Alabama (Mobile), University of Alabama (Tuscaloosa), Baruch College (New York), and (through Corporate Communications Institute) Wroxton college, Oxford, England.
Consultant to public relations people, CEOs and other executives; to professional consultants in EnviroComm International; to students and young people over the years; and consultant to Navistar since 1998.
- In 2009, named to faculty in the advanced public relations degree program at Georgetown University.