Sorcerer’s Apprentice Part Two: Remembering John R. Walsh
OK. Here’s what really got me thinking about mentors when I wrote a post about my inbound marketing teachers earlier today. On November 1, 2007 – hard to believe it’s two years ago — my own, dear personal mentor died. His name was John R. Walsh and he was one of the unsung giants of PR. He led small New York PR agencies with and without partners that broke a lot of new ground from the early 1960s through the mid-1980s.
John created amazing PR programs for major brands. These included Colgate Palmolive’s women’s golf events – the Colgate-Dinah Shore and the Triple Crown match play tournament, precursors to what we now call sports marketing. When Dinah died and AP stories pictured her on the 18th tee of Mission Hills Country Club in Palm Springs, home of the tournament, former Colgate CEO David Foster wrote John a personal note pointing out that the tournament continued to shine a positive spotlight on the company years after it ended.
He turned the staid nautical marketing image of Cutty Sark Scots Whisky on its ear when he convinced its distributor to give him ‘one billboard’s worth of budget’ to sponsor a star-studded men’s fashion awards event in collaboration with the Men’s Fashion Association. The Cutty Sark Menswear Awards were nominated and voted by the fashion press, ran for years and boosted the careers of designers like Gianni Versace, Alexander Julian, Jhane Barnes and many others. It also sold a lot of scotch.
Baroness Philippine de Rothschild became John’s friend as well as client when he handled the Smithsonian-sponsored US tour of the original art work for the Mouton Rothschild vintage wine labels. These are only a few examples of his brilliant campaign creation.
He was a commanding presence who had Fortune 500 CEO’s, Hollywood stars, the press and other influential personae falling in line with his ideas. He was a great producer of shows, played a mean piano (in the key of ‘C’ only) and composed some terrific songs (also in ‘C’). He thrilled at hearing the overture to a Broadway show – which is why the music you’re listening to here is the overture from the original cast album of Mack & Mabel – one of his favorites – starring Robert Preston and Bernadette Peters.
John recognized that writing was a natural talent of mine and convinced me of it too by giving me heavy-duty writing assignments when I was just a kid really. He taught me to see the relationships among seemingly un-related dots – and then to connect them. When I decided to start my own PR consultancy he assured me that it was a no-brainer and that I’d certainly succeed.
The proudest media success of my career was the role I played in writing his obit and placing it in the New York Times. The archives somehow detached the accompanying photo of John skating with Olympic gold medalist and movie star Sonja Henie so I’ve posted it for you to see. I forgot to mention that he was her partner in her touring ice show. Other details of his life and career – including the fact that in an interesting turn he became my stepfather – are in the press coverage.
Thinking of you, John. I miss you and love you.