Arthur W. Page Society

01/14/2020 | News release | Distributed by Public on 01/14/2020 22:16

In Memory of Harold Burson

I joined Burson-Marsteller right out of school. By the second week I was invited with a small group of other new, junior folks to have lunch with Harold in the 23rd floor conference room at our 866 Third Avenue office. That was the summer of '78. It began 40+ years of admiration and affection for this remarkable guy. I had come from Utica College of Syracuse University where another icon, Raymond Simon, had established himself as one of the fathers of public relations education. Ray was a little like Harold … bright, modest and short! And always wanting to help. Ray reached out to Harold on my behalf to help secure a job interview. Harold had some affection for Ray for several reasons, not the least of which must have been his amazement that this small school in upstate New York delivered strong professionals to Burson-Marsteller over the years like John Labella, Marv Gellman, Rob Flaherty and quite a few others.

I was there in 1987 at the Waldorf Astoria when all of BM/NY celebrated passing Hill & Knowlton in revenue (according to Jack O'Dwyer) to become the world's largest public relations firm - something Harold always said was never a particular goal. I was actually there for a lot of things. My time at Burson, from 1978 - 1988, was a decade of rapid growth and expansion. The heyday of the firm, in some respects. As everyone can tell by the outpouring of notes from BM alumni around the world, this was a very special place.

In 1986, I moved from Manhattan to Scarsdale. It was Edgemont really, a more affordable neighborhood but with the Scarsdale address. Coincidentally, Harold and Bette lived just a few blocks away. The very first person to welcome me to the neighborhood was Bette - she walked over with a bottle of champagne and a six-pack of Coca-Cola. And she quickly invited us to the house for a dinner party. I was 29 years old then yet here were Harold and Bette treating me like something special. That's who they were.

One of the toughest career decisions I've ever had to make was to leave Burson-Marsteller in 1988 to become the head of Ketchum's New York office. Harold didn't make it easy on me. Besides talking with me, he wrote me a very kind and generous letter. And he said he hoped I'd come back at some point. 'We would, regardless of who is in charge here, welcome your return as one of the presently more than 60 'retreads' who have elected to come back home,' Harold wrote.

He's right. That place was home. It nurtured and developed me and countless others. And I think most alumni feel they remain part of a very special family. At 98, Harold enjoyed an amazing life and that is what we should celebrate.

We all owe him a great deal. May his memory be a blessing.