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1924 – 2010

In memoriam: Betsy Plank, APR, Fellow PRSA TACTICS June 2010 13


Remembering the “First honored leader, mentor and matriarch of the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) and the public relations profession, passed away on May 23 following a short illness. She was 86. Often referred to as the “First Lady of Public Relations,” Plank received international recognition during her distinguished career in corporate and agency public relations. She was the first woman to head a division of Illinois Bell (which became Ameritech), the first woman to be elected president of the Publicity Club of Chicago (1963), the first woman to be elected president of PRSA (1973) and a founding member of PRSA’s College of Fellows. Plank is the first person to receive three of PRSA’s top individual honors for professionals: the Gold Anvil (1977), the Paul M. Lund Public Service Award (1989) and the first Patrick Jackson Award for Distinguished Service to PRSA (2001). “Betsy was both a mentor and role model to me,” said Gary McCormick, APR, Fellow PRSA, PRSA’s 2010 chair and CEO.“Over the years, she continued to amaze me with her incredible insights and professional leadership, not to mention her endearing personal touch in her many letters and faxes. “She continued to encourage me and challenge me professionally and at higher levels within PRSA,” said McCormick, who serves on the Board of The Plank Center for Leadership in Public Relations at the University of Alabama. “It’s indeed a sad hour in the life of PRSA,” said Michael Cherenson, APR, PRSA’s immediate past chair. “Betsy inspired several generations of public relations practitioners with her thoughtful counsel on the most important issues facing the profession. She was a tireless, dedicated advocate for the profession.We wouldn’t be here today without her pioneering leadership and steady presence.” In 2000, Plank also received the Distinguished Lifetime Achievement Award from the Arthur W. Page Society, an association of the nation’s top corporate PR executives.

At Betsy’s request, no memorial service or funeral was held. Donations in Betsy’s name may be made to The Plank Center for Leadership in Public Relations at the University of Alabama inTuscaloosa. The Plank Center Box 870172 The College of Communication & Information Sciences The University of Alabama Tuscaloosa, AL 35487-0172

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Leaving a legacy She earned countless accolades for her outstanding service to public relations and education, and established PRSA’s first-ever scholarship endowment fund in 2005, the Betsy Plank Scholarship Endowment Fund. “I believe a strong foundation in education is fundamental to a profession and defines it,” Plank told Tactics in a November 2006 interview. “We simply have to have strong educational underpinnings and all that infers — research, ethical disciplines and responsibility to society at large.” Plank was a pioneer in PR education — she was the cochair of the 1987 national commission to develop guidelines for the undergraduate PR curriculum, served on accrediting teams at many universities and spoke to numerous student groups and PR classes. Betsy Plank,APR, Fellow PRSA, attends the PRSA In the conversation with Tactics, Plank International Conference in 1985 (top) and in 2007. commented on why investing in PR education and the future of our profession is so important, saying: “This business has been very good to us — providing a challenging, exciting and rewarding career. Surely we owe something to its future.We also have a vested interest in the quality professionals our schools produce.Whether we work in an agency, corporate, government or the nonprofit sector, we all need a new generation capable of performing.” Plank was a graduate of the University of Alabama, and The Plank Center for Leadership in Public Relations at her alma mater is named after her. The College of Communication & Information Sciences at UA also inducted Plank into its Communication Hall prsa

Betsy Plank,APR, Fellow PRSA,

of Fame and named its Distinguished Achievement Award in her honor. She chaired the Center’s advisory board and remained actively involved with PRSA and The Arthur W. Page Society as well as numerous other organizations up until the time of her death. “As PR professionals, we have a responsibility to help our students grow, to become PRSA colleagues, leaders in the profession and mentors to those who follow them in the classroom,” Plank said. Mentoring the next generation of PR pros Plank was also integral in the creation of the college student organization, the Public Relations Student Society of America (PRSSA). One of her most memorable moments was when she served as a Chicago Chapter delegate at the 1967 PRSA Assembly in Philadelphia and several legendary leaders such as J. Carroll Bateman, Jon Riffel,Walt Siefert, Chris Teahan and Edward VonderHaar proposed establishing a student society. The vote was unanimous, she said.“It was an act of faith and — in my case — the beginning of a lifetime love affair with students,” Plank told Tactics.“From that day, our students have proven to be of great judgment and leadership, and they’ve lived up to every expectation we’ve had of them.” “Betsy was the ultimate ‘champion’ for public relations education and students. She gave a lifetime to advancing students, especially members of PRSSA,” said Jeneen Garcia, director of education at PRSA. “Her service to the student Society was unsurpassed,


Lady of Public Relations” Leaving a legacy Plank was born on April 3, 1924. A native of Alabama, Plank returned in 1965 to join the final leg of the Civil Rights March from Selma to Montgomery. She received her B.A. degree from the University of Alabama in 1944, and was elected to its College of Communication Hall of Fame in 2000. She was associated with radio station NQV-Pittsburgh before entering public relations in 1947. She retired from corporate practice in 1990, but had returned to PR counseling. Active in the community, Plank chaired the Illinois Council on Economic Education and the Citizenship Council of Metropolitan Chicago, served on the boards of the United Way, Girl Scouts USA and Girl Scouts of Chicago, and twice chaired annual Leadership Luncheons of theYWCA of Metropolitan Chicago. She was a founder and past chair of the Chicago Network, the area’s leading organization for career women, and received its First Decade Award in 1989. Plank was the only person to have served as president of four Chicago communications organizations: Publicity Club of Chicago (1963); Welfare Public Relations Forum (1966-67); PRSA’s Chicago Chapter (1969); and the Public Relations Forum (1979). Plank was named in Who’s Who in America and was a lifetime member of the Publicity Club of Chicago, a member of the Economic Club and Union League Club of Chicago and the International Public Relations Association. Plank was married to the late Sherman V. Rosenfield and resided in Chicago. “In my philosophy, public relations is fundamental to a democratic society where people make decisions in the workplace, marketplace, the community and the voting booth,” Plank said after receiving the Institute for Public Relations’Alexander Hamilton Award in 2000.“Its primary mission is to forge responsible relationships of understanding, trust and respect among groups and individuals — even when they disagree. Mr. Hamilton’s historic work continues to inspire and inform that difficult challenge today.” During its July board meeting, the Plank Center will join the Chicago PR community to celebrate Plank’s contributions to the profession. PRSA will also recognize Plank at this year’s PRSA International Conference in Washington, D.C., Oct. 17-19.

For more on the career of Betsy Plank, APR, Fellow PRSA, including a series of video interviews please visit The Plank Center for Leadership in Public Relations at http://plankcenter.ua.edu.

Words of wisdom Betsy Plank, APR,Fellow PRSA shared these thoughts on the profession at The Plank Center for Leadership in Public Relations Today’s aspiring PR students and young professionals have a running start on their careers: formal study in the discipline and early commitment to the profession. Most have also had internships, mentoring by educators and practitioners, leadership experience and connections through PRSSA and multicultural and global perspectives. Those opportunities weren’t there for most of my generation.We arrived from other studies, other occupations — primarily journalism. (This history/political science major had never heard of public relations!) The customary qualification: writing. The rest we learned by the seat of our pants or skirts — growing with the field as it evolved from one-way communication, publicity and event production to a management function charged with building reputation and relationships, dedicated to truth and listening; enlightened by research; disciplined by corporate objectives; increasingly challenged by societal issues. So what lessons learned would have currency if I were starting all over again today? Among the many I remember and value: the plank center

from her professional and financial contributions, to arranging for legendary professionals to speak to students, to serving as a historian and mentor to all — including me. She has left a legacy of ethical practice and interest in PR education for all in this profession to uphold. She will be missed.” Plank has a PRSSA Chapter at Northern Illinois University named for her.The Chapter also established an annual scholarship in her name.And as founder and co-chair of the Champions For PRSSA, Plank received the student organization’s 25th Anniversary Award in 1993.

• Ethics and integrity. They are not simply a professional “code” to begin observing on the job.They are one’s here-and-now character and compass — in today’s classrooms, in daily relationships and behavior throughout a lifetime.

• Mentoring. In every corner of career and life, you’ll nurture and benefit from mentors. But also — begin now to become a mentor — upperclassmen to younger students, new alumni to classrooms and interns. From wherever you stand today, reach out a caring, responsible hand. • Computer miracles. Their wonders and resources are tools for a professional’s command, not captivity. They never replace face-to-face encounters fundamental to PR practice. At least not as long as volatile, stubborn and complex human beings are around! • Community service. Beyond the daily desk, volunteering hones leadership skills, develops new contacts and insights, helps solve community problems. It’s also good for the soul. • Passion for reading. Read newspapers and periodicals, of course. But also research, history, contemporary and classical literature. • Professional organizations. They provide unique opportunities to continue learning, develop leadership skills, forge collegial connectors and make significant contributions to the profession’s progress and promise. • Public relations. Practiced at its best, it is a proud, powerful and responsible profession, essential to a democratic society in which people make daily decisions in the workplace, the marketplace, the community and the voting booth. Besides, it’s populated by many of the brightest, most creative, caring can-do men and women of honor, heart and humor — curiously addicted to the rigors of problem solving. Traveling in that spirited company is a great adventure. Amen, my young colleagues. Welcome to the journey and Godspeed.

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1924 – 2010

Remembering Betsy Plank, APR, Fellow PRSA At PRSA.org, we encouraged readers to share their favorite memories about Betsy. Here are several of the comments that celebrate her life amd recall her kindness:

Rosanna Fiske, APR When friends called to tell me about Betsy’s passing, I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. For some reason, I always felt Betsy was invincible. Maybe it was the red hair and the red lipstick. Maybe it was that infallible good spirit that always, always saw the positive. Maybe it was that incredible energy. Betsy changed many of our lives just by being Betsy. I am so glad we got to laugh together.

Cheryl Procter-Rogers, APR, Fellow PRSA Betsy was a dear friend who always had a kind word, great words of wisdom and a warm and welcoming smile. I will miss the days spent in her living room and on her boat debating the news of the day. I will miss her personal handwritten or typed notes of support and encouragement. Her love for the students was unmatched and unwavering.When Terry and I married, she never forgot to send a small gift to us for Valentine’s Day. This was her way. I will miss her red jacket and heart of gold.

Kathy Hubbell, APR, Fellow PRSA It is almost physically painful to read this and to know of Betsy’s passing. I remember watching her with PRSSA students at an International Conference a couple of years ago — just as I was making my own transition into teaching — and being absolutely amazed at both her energy and her compassion. She was vitally interested in everything that was going on, and in talking to every student that she could. Even more wonderful, those students obviously loved her. I remember thinking I hoped to have the same ongoing passion and commitment as I go through the next couple of decades, because she certainly set the bar for excellence.

Michael Cherenson, APR Betsy was a trailblazer, mentor, leader, friend and inspiration to us all. Her legacy will live on forever.The world is a better place thanks to Betsy Plank.

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Mary Deming Barber, APR, Fellow PRSA Betsy is one of those people I always looked forward to seeing at PRSA meetings. Her wonderful smile and warm embrace will be remembered for many years to come. The void left is immeasurable but I hope we can all use Betsy’s life as one to which we aspire. The students and professionals with whom she worked are changed for the better forever.

Sonja Popp-Stahly, APR Betsy was such a strong advocate for PR education. I remember meeting her for the first time at a PRSSA National Conference nearly 20 years ago when I received a Betsy Plank/PRSSA scholarship. That set the stage for my understanding of her passion and devotion to PRSSA. In the years that followed, I always looked forward to seeing her at the Friends/Champions for PRSSA receptions. She truly understood the power of a strong PR education and its importance in creating a solid foundation for the future of our profession. Betsy was a true inspiration.

Joe Trahan, APR, Fellow PRSA I will miss Betsy’s friendship, professionalism, dedication, leadership from the front, sense of humor and smile. She will always be the heart and soul of PRSA and PRSSA! She will live forever in our hearts, minds and the souls of all of the past, current and future PRSSA students.

Mary Beth West, APR I met Betsy at my first PRSSA National Conference in 1991 in Phoenix as a student from the University of Tennessee. At the time, being so new to the organization, I had no idea about the depth of this lady’s

Craig Miyamoto, APR, Fellow PRSA Betsy lives forever in my heart. I will never forget the first thing she always did when she saw me — since it was usually at a PRSA conference, she’d give me a PRSSA heart to display on my name badge. I am so fortunate to have seen her often during the years that I served as a PRSSA national adviser and as a PRSA director, and will never forget the warmth of her hugs. God bless your beautiful heart, Betsy.

T. Michael Jackson, APR, Fellow PRSA I recall what an honor it was to present the first Patrick Jackson award to Betsy — and how wonderful she was in receiving it. Her stories of PRSA past events . . . were ones I will cherish forever.

Robert Stack PRSA and PRSSA have suffered a loss that cannot be weighed. Betsy Plank, APR, Fellow PRSA was more than the matriarch of PRSSA, she was a passionate and vocal champion of PR education. Her words and deeds touched the lives of hundreds upon thousands of students on campuses all across America durBetsy Plank, APR, Fellow PRSA, mingles with other past PRSA presidents ing an iconic career spanning during the International Conference in 1987. Mickey G. Nall, APR, decades. As a former national Fellow PRSA professional adviser to PRSSA, Betsy Plank embodied all the best attributes leadership background with PRSA and I feel a personal sense of loss for a remarkof what a true professional is — dedication PRSSA . . . I just thought she was an excepable colleague and dear friend who truly to the work; leadership at every phase of a tionally sharp professional who was being paved the way for others in our profession. career; providing a path for tomorrow’s generous with her time. Soon after, when I I know that she would not want us to practitioners; moral and ethical practice in learned more about her pivotal role mourn her loss, but to champion her causes professional and personal pursuits; and throughout PRSA’s history and in PRSSA’s and carry on her legacy of touching the grace, generosity and kindness 24/7 . . . founding, I felt all the more honored that hearts and minds of PRSSA students. I certainly mourn her loss and celebrate the she would have taken so much time to help inspiration she is to me and to all of us in a single student with such a grassroots-level public relations. request. But that was Betsy. If it had anyCedric L. Bess (PRSSA National thing to do with PRSSA or any single PR President 2000-2001) student, she was first in line to mentor, Our profession has lost one of its pioneers Debbie Mason, APR, Fellow PRSA motivate and inspire. with the passing of Betsy Plank. She was a Betsy was a legend, even while alive. Her mentor and inspiration to so many of us, sheer force of will, determination and especially those who were fortunate “guts,” as she called it, were an amazing role Michael Bardin, APR enough to work with her during our time model for so many of us to have the Betsy Plank will certainly be missed but in PRSSA. I will fondly remember her pascourage to speak out, to do the right thing she’ll never be forgotten.There is so much sion, spunk and tireless dedication to PR always. I feel fortunate to have been among within PRSA and PRSSA that bears her education. I am forever grateful for having those who were “adopted” by Betsy. She handprint. She will live forever in our proknown such a giving professional and an encouraged, challenged and celebrated so fessional and personal lives. Everyone loved even better human being. many growth points in my own life — and Betsy. How could you not? What a spirit. dozens more. She will be painfully missed. What a joy. We’ll always love you, Betsy. To read more tributes, please visit www.prsa.org. courtesy gary mccormick, apr, fellow prsa

Don Wright, APR, Fellow PRSA It’s an understatement to say that Betsy Plank was one of the greatest and most loyal friends public relations education and research has ever had. She will be missed very much.


Betsy Plank, APR, Fellow PRSA