In Remembrance of Ward White | “In All Things Give Thanks”

Ward WhiteEarlier this week, the field lost a great supporter and friend in Ward White. He was passionate about the profession and a fighter for the greater good. He cared tremendously about education. At Northwestern Mutual, he helped champion the Master’s Thesis of the Year award, given annually by IPR. I won that award 15 years ago, and I distinctly remember how wonderful Ward was to me—he seemed larger than life. For more than 20 years, he served on the Board of Trustees of the Institute for Public Relations. He even created our logo. Last year, he told me that our goal should be to make the profession better. Ward left a lasting mark on many industry organizations. He will be missed. We wanted to pay tribute to Ward. Below are his bio and memories offered by some of his closest friends and colleagues. Thank you, Ward, for all you did. Your contributions have indeed made our profession better, and your legacy will live on.

Tina McCorkindale, Ph.D.
President & CEO
Institute for Public Relations

Biography from Peter Debreceny, Consultant, Gagen MacDonald:

A nationally prominent leader in the public relations field, at the time of his passing Ward was Chief Strategy Officer of Edelman Southwest. From 1990 until 2005, he served with distinction as an executive officer of Northwestern Mutual, the nation’s largest individual life insurer —as vice president-communications from 1990 until 2003 and then vice president-corporate relations. At Northwestern, he was rightly proud of the recognition the company achieved for its service to members and the community – and was typically modest about how much his own efforts had contributed to that stellar reputation. Passionately committed to public service, after he retired from Northwestern Ward agreed to continue his involvement in the Milwaukee community as managing director of Milwaukee’s Marcus Corporation Foundation in 2005.

Ward was previously president and CEO of Bozell Public Relations Worldwide (now WeberShandwick). He served with Bozell and its predecessor firms from 1975 to 1988, successively managing company operations in Houston, California, Chicago, New York and then the firm globally. From 1988 to 1990, he was president of Golin/Harris East. His work for clients gained the highest professional recognition, including PRSA’s Silver Anvil, IABC’s Gold Quill, PRSA/NY’s Big Apple and the American Marketing Association’s Effie award.

There was no bigger advocate for the work of the Institute than Ward White, and we will all miss his enthusiasm and zest for life. He initially became a Trustee of the Institute in 1994 and served as co-Chair from 1999 to 2006. In recognition of his outstanding service to IPR, the Institute made him an Honorary Trustee in 2005.

In addition to serving as trustee, he was a long time member of the Arthur W. Page Society and was the Society’s representative on the Accrediting Council on Education in Journalism and Mass Communications from 2005 to 2015. He also belonged to the Wisemen, PRSA (APR), IABC, Association of National Advertisers, Life Communicators Group and other professional societies. He regularly participated in the PR Seminar, the Notre Dame Conference on Corporate Communications and the PR Coalition. An author and speaker on industry issues, White wrote for PR Journal, Conference Board, and other publications. He spoke at events presented by the Institute, the Conference Board, Arthur W. Page Society, American Management Association, PRSA National Convention, Counselors Academy, and chapters of both PRSA and NIRI.

A native of Chicago, married to Sydney Greenblatt, and parent of two grown children, White received his M.A. from DePaul University and his Ph.D. from Catholic University in Washington, D.C.

Friends and colleagues of Ward offered these words to honor him:

Margery Kraus, Executive Chairman, APCO Worldwide:
Ward was both a professional colleague and encouraged my involvement in IPR many years ago but he was also someone who helped me learn the ropes as I joined the Board of Trustees for his employer, Northwestern Mutual.   I was fortunate to see Ward at work in his day job in a company that he loved and held in the highest regard and share that enthusiasm with all of us who were associated with him in this capacity.  And, I also shared the friendship and mutual respect as colleagues in the profession.  Ward was one of a kind and he will be missed.

Matt Gonring, Chairman Emeritus, Institute for Public Relations:
My Good Friend Ward White, Ward and I have been professional colleagues for 25 years and have had innumerable occasions to help others and each other as a result of our common ideals. When I was in transition in 2000, I visited Wards NML office and he wrote an eloquent note to the Chairman of Rockwell who had just moved headquarters to Milwaukee about me. The Chairman subsequently hired me as VP. I then had the distinction of being in the Milwaukee corporate community with Ward and we were co-Board members of Betty Brinn Children’s Museum and Co-chairs of The Institute of Public Relations. Ward was a great, special and inspirational friend to many and he was a wonderful conversationalist! We will miss his energy, caring nature, compassion and zeal for life and connecting with and for others. His commitment to family, community, to the profession, to his friends and his work set a standard for us all to aspire toward. May God rest his soul and keep his many positive influences around us.

Bill Nielsen, Corporate VP (retired), Johnson & Johnson:
Ward White contributed in many ways to the maturation of corporate public relations over the past 30 years and it was my great pleasure to know him and work with him through this important period. We first met in the early 1990s in connection with the Institute for Public Relations. He followed me later in the role of Chairman and I greatly admired his dedication and leadership, which helped set the Institute on the path toward growth and great influence in our profession. He was outspoken on issues he felt strongly about — so outspoken at times that I took pleasure in reminding him he worked for “The Quiet Company,” the promotional signature his company, Northwestern Mutual, had adopted. But, we’re all better off that Ward spoke his mind. He was a giant and a good friend and I will miss his glad smile and his astute observations.

Keith Burton, Principal, Grayson Emmett Partners:
When I first met Ward many years ago, one of the first things he said to me was, “You need to get involved with the Institute for Public Relations!” He had a passion for our mission and the work of our trustees. He loved our profession. He brought a deeper, more penetrating look at the issues that challenge us. In moments where we faced real difficulties, he always saw possibilities for a greater outcome. When others gave up or grew frustrated, he brought fresh insights and a wonderful wit that broke the tension. Encouraging is a word I always think of when I think of ward.

Real leaders create other leaders. Ward White was a real leader.

Rick White, Associate Vice Chancellor for Communications and Public Affairs, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill
Giants walk among us and often we don’t know it until they are gone. But with Ward White, we knew and we were often in awe. We knew his intellect and curiosity. We knew his ability to be the counselor’s counsel. We knew him as a mentor to those in high places and to those at the very bottom of the organization. We knew him as a wonderful writer and storyteller, even as his life was drawing to a close. But most of all, we knew him as a friend who has left a void in all of our lives.

Brad Rawlins, Dean – College of Media & Communication, Arkansas State University:
I met Ward White at IPR board meeting when I gave a presentation on some early research I had conducted on transparency. Ward and I later became better acquainted and I considered him a friend. I’m sure he must have had hundreds of acquaintances who also considered him a friend because that’s the kind of person he was. He was always willing to help in any way possible. He was also a great advocate for PR education, serving on the ACEJMC Council and several site teams over the years. He is a rare individual who leaves a legacy of kindness, integrity and insight and his voice for quality PR education will be missed.

Jim Simon, President, Simon & Associates:
Ward was a great gentleman “of the old school” who was unfailingly gracious, generous, and supportive. His many PR friends knew him to be a wise counselor, strong advocate for strategic communications, connector of professional colleagues, and constructive critic of the field. His views at IPR board meetings always commanded respect.

My wife, Karen, and I visited Ward and Sydney in Milwaukee just last October, and Ward gave us a tour of the city that would make the local chamber of commerce proud. Ward’s “Renaissance Man” approach to life was reflected in his wonderful ability to seamlessly weave his knowledge of local history, arts and culture, business, cuisine, and sociological factors into a memorable tour.  

I will miss Ward on many levels, but I know he’s off to a fast start in the great beyond. He’s likely debating important issues with his heavenly contemporaries and has already won a tennis match or two on the courts above.

Enjoy the next journey, friend.

Don W. Stacks, Ph.D., Professor, University of Miami & CEO/Executive Director, International Public Relations Research Conference:
I have had the opportunity to know and learn from Ward for almost 20 years. Most people don’t know it, but Ward’s first love was academia—he has a Ph.D. in History, and that explains a lot of his communication strategy. Ward has pretty much done it all—agency/firm, corporate, education—and done it well. When I first joined the IPR Board about 17 years ago, Ward took it as his job to mentor me as to the “workings of the hardest working Board he’d ever served on.” At that time the IPR Board was small, no more than a dozen top professionals and educators. What I learned from Ward I have taken on with the International Public Relations Research Conference and also in my own teaching. His passion for learning and for educating was contagious among the many IPR Boards he was elected to. After when many would have thought about retirement, Ward instead focused on getting on the Accreditation Council and doing multiple accreditation visitations. He was and will continue to be an inspiration for us all.

Mark Weiner, CEO, PRIME Research:
During the early years of the IPR Measurement Commission, Ward White committed himself to our fledgling group by attending every meeting, offering guidance and sharing his enthusiasm.  Since that time and due in part to the foundation Ward helped to set, the Commission has flourished.  The group has published scores of papers, issued dozens of opinion pieces and spoken to hundreds of professional associations.  On behalf of the Measurement Commission, we express our gratitude by celebrating his many contributions and honoring his memory.

Don Bates, Assistant Clinical Professor, New York University:
I will always remember and respect Ward’s thoughtful engagement with the Institute, and with the public relations profession as a whole. He was a doer and he did good things.

Frank Ovaitt, CEO Emeritus, Institute for Public Relations:
Sometimes you wonder if Ward knew just how beloved he was (and still is) to so many people. I had known Ward a long time through the Institute for Public Relations and for several years we served together as co-chairs of the Board. It was an experience I’ll always treasure.

It was also a transitional time for IPR, and I wonder how many people understood just how instrumental Ward was in shaping the successful, focused organization that IPR is today. He cared deeply about the science beneath the art of public relations. He was such a warm person, full of wisdom and clever ways of expressing it, and that I’ll never forget.

Donald K. Wright, Harold Burson Professor and Chair in Public Relations, College of Communication, Boston University:|
Ward White always brought enthusiasm and class to virtually everything related to excellence in public relations research and education. He served magnificently as Chairman of the Board of Trustees of the Institute for Public Relations for a number of years and was a long-time contributor to IPR in many different ways. As a member of the Arthur W. Page Society he was that organizations representative on the Accrediting Council for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication (AEJMC). Ward was a strong supporter of many Page Society and IPR initiatives, especially the Institute’s annual competition for the nation’s best public relations master’s thesis. He will be missed.

Lou Williams, Chairman, The Lou Williams Company:
Ward was instrumental in helping build an intellectual foundation for the public relations field.  He was a mentor in so many ways:  to CEOs on how to create strategic intent, to students through supporting excellence in teaching and academic programming, to practitioners by spreading the word, and to all by finding answers to complex questions of morality and ethics.  He will be missed personally, professionally.  He was a friend to all of us.

James Grunig, Ph.D., Professor Emeritus, University of Maryland:
Ward was not only a remarkable public relations professional, he also was a wonderful human being. He was truly interested in research on public relations and always sought out ideas from public relations academics. I could always sit down with him and share ideas, and he was always truly interested in what I had to say. At the same time, I always learned something from him in every conversation. The profession, and the world, will miss him greatly.

Peter Debreceny, Consultant, Gagen MacDonald:
My experience as a new trustee was that Ward not only cared deeply about the Institute – he went out of his way to help me make the most of the trustee experience. He was kind, interested, and caring. He brought great judgement and wisdom to trustee deliberations. And he was a joy to work with, as a trustee and later when we served together as co-Chairs. Ward was passionate about life – competitive where it counted (especially on the tennis court) and always collaborative professionally. When he unexpectedly became unwell earlier in the year, he fought his illness with the same dedication and commitment he brought to everything else in life. His positive approach, strength, and determination has been truly inspiring. It has been a privilege to have known Ward, and to have been his friend.

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