10 Favorite Betsy Plank Memories

 

Betsy touched a multitude of lives throughout her career. She left a legacy that is unparalleled to this day, and her unique personality won the hearts of many. We asked Betsy’s friends and colleagues about their favorite memories of her and got so many responses, we couldn’t limit it to 10! Read on to get a peek into how Betsy made a difference to so many.

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  1. When I was a rising senior at the University of Tennessee—Knoxville and serving on the PRSSA National Committee, our summer leadership retreat took place in Chicago, and – always the gracious hostess – Betsy invited the whole Committee and our advisers to her penthouse apartment near Lake Michigan for deep-dish Chicago-style pizza and lots of terrific networking with her own circle of close colleagues in the city whom she also invited.  I remember the building elevator door opening directly into her living room (I had never seen an elevator not open up into an outside hallway before!).  I also remember the photos in her home of Betsy and her late husband with presidents, other notable leaders and even a few Hollywood stars (Audrey Hepburn I recall in particular).  And, I remember thinking… this is what a successful career in public relations can culminate to – a lifetime of incredible experiences coupled with the ability to continue giving back to those just entering the profession, just as Betsy was doing for us that evening.  It was an impactful evening, and I’ll never forget it.  – Mary Beth West
  2. When I taught the inaugural Platform Magazine class—which entailed conceptualizing, planning, writing, designing, and then marketing the first issue all in one semester—Betsy was not comfortable with the online world. Nevertheless, she literally sat front and center at every meeting she attended and she contributed ideas and encouragement to the students throughout the process. – Dr. Meg Lamme
  3. I first met Betsy in the 1980s in Dallas and in New York at the PRSA International Conferences. She was gracious, patient and supportive of me as a young professional. It meant a lot to me. She served on my committee planning the 2007 PRSA International Conference in Salt Lake City, and I remember her asking important, penetrating questions regarding our focus on ethics, integrity and key topics that she cared deeply about. I also remember that she had a tradition of always lodging at the PRSSA hotel with the students rather than the hotel for the professional members. It sent a message about her priorities in life. – Keith Burton
  4. I drove Betsy from Birmingham to Tuscaloosa one Friday afternoon, as we headed to UA for a weekend Plank Center session. We had a great car trip, and at the end I asked her what arrangements she wanted me to make for her dinner. She didn’t say anything for a minute, then she looked at me and said, “Honey, all I want is a hamburger and a cigarette.” Very matter-of-fact. That was the authentic Betsy. Tremendous style and humility, authentically packaged in a petite body. – Keith Burton
  5. My favorite memory is of serving on a PRSA committee with her, where she encouraged us to develop a program in which talented public relations professor scholars could gain more real-world professional experience to bring back to their classrooms. This was a longstanding dream of hers, as she valued both public relations scholarship and students’ professional exposure. I’m so pleased that the Plank Center has realized this dream of Betsy’s, and more than 40 educators with little or dated professional experience–and their students–have benefited from the program thus far. – Dr. Diana Martinelli
  6. I met Betsy at the PRSA Miami conference in 1974.  I was a PRSSA member and was representing the PRSSA Pearce Davies Chapter at San Jose State University.  The San Jose State PRSSA Team won a regional Case Study Competition.  I also subsequently developed a friendship with her when I was a member of the Chicago Chapter of PRSA in the 1980s.  I guess my favorite memory was in 1974 although I saw and met with her many times when I lived and worked in Chicago. – Gerard Corbett
  7. Betsy was a true leader in our profession, but most of all she was a real character with great humor and the ability to put things in perspective. My favorite memory was all of that. I sat next to her at the last PRSA national nominating committee meeting she participated in. She was certainly appropriate but, at the same time brought great humor and focus when discussions were getting a bit pretentious or unproductive. She made it a very positive experience for me and helped me see my role differently when I chaired the committee the next year. You can go about serious business and make good decisions by using appropriate humor and not taking yourself too seriously. – Jeff Julin
  8. I came to know Betsy through the PRSA’s College of Fellows. When I was chair of The College in 2002, we collaborated on her interview with a leading professional at the annual student conference. Betsy and I established an easy rapport. She made me feel more confident about my volunteer leadership duties and responsibilities in The College. Betsy was a mentor to me as she was to many younger aspiring professionals. Her career at Edelson awed and inspired me. I wrote to her at the end of her life to express my gratitude. – Pender McCarter
  9. Sitting on her boat in the Chicago harbor off Lake Michigan hearing the stories about Sherman, her days in Alabama, her involvement in the Civil Rights movement and how and why she arrived in Chicago. Or, joining her for lunch at her favorite table at the Union League Club where she would graciously ask for update on everything going on in my life. – Cheryl Procter-Rogers
  10. Betsy “passing the hat” (old straw “boater”), and leading others to do so, for PRSSA support at PRSA conferences; passing it at PRSA past-presidents dinner and leading the song, “We Are The Has-Beens …” (to the melody for “You Are My Sunshine …”) – John Paluszek
  11. It’s difficult to pick a single favorite memory with Betsy, so I’ll cite the first that comes to mind. Once I moved to Chicago for an internship (and eventual job) at Ketchum, Betsy and I adopted each other as family. I helped her with both personal and PR initiatives, while she helped me network with many of the best mentors in the industry. During one of the first times Betsy hosted my wife (then girlfriend) Stephanie and I socially, we went to her boat at Burnham Harbor for lunch and cocktails. Steph was well aware of Betsy’s successes and she was prepared for a buttoned-up, formal engagement. Betsy must have been able to tell, as she asked to take pictures together and insisted we wear red clown noses for the shot. I’m not sure why Betsy had red clown noses on hand, but it completely lightened the atmosphere and she became fast friends with Steph that day. – Kevin Saghy
  12. Betsy always wanted me to take her for a ride on my Harley. I refused to take people because I didn’t want to kill someone! I’ve never ridden with someone on my motorcycle, but Betsy always wanted to go for a ride! – Dr. William Gonzenbach
  13. In 2002, I ran for President-Elect of PRSA, and interviewed with the Nominating Committee at the Chicago O’Hare Hilton (where the NomCom has convened for years – centrally located, etc.). The night before I flew to Chicago, Betsy called and asked what plans I had following my NomCom interview. As my interview was early on a Saturday morning, I hadn’t given thought to what I’d do for the remainder of the day (candidates are asked to remain in Chicago through midday Sunday, should the NomCom have additional questions, etc.). Betsy said, “Great, train into the city, and meet me at the Union League Club” – where she was a long-time member. Of course, I did as I was told, and arrived at the ULC at the designated time. There was Betsy, in all her glory, looking like a million bucks and beaming. After hugs and kisses, the maître ‘d directed us to our table. Unfortunately, it didn’t sit well with Betsy. As a long-time, unabashed smoker, she asked that we be moved to the smoking section. I was thrilled. As a smoker in those days, I enjoyed savoring the afternoon in the company of a friend and public relations legend – enjoying our cigarettes. Immediately after being reseated, Betsy ordered a bottle of (expensive) Champagne – to celebrate what she said was my certain nomination as President-Elect of PRSA. I hesitated, and suggested it was premature. She wouldn’t hear of it. The bottle was popped and we sipped, smoked and laughed throughout the afternoon. Blessedly, at that moment I was smart enough to think: Savor this moment; soak it in – this is a memory for a lifetime. Later that day I would learn that I would become the leader of the world’s largest organization of public relations professionals, and I had the great-good-fortune of being celebrated by one of the profession’s icons. It’s treasured memory – both professionally and personally. – Del Galloway
  14. The second memory is actually a collection of experiences that reflect Betsy’s spirit and commitment to our profession and education. Once elected as leader of PRSA, Betsy would phone and fax me often, at all hours of the day and night – sharing ideas and offering counsel. Topics would range from PRSSA, to the Society’s governance structure, the roll of Past Presidents and always, always the introduction of up-and-coming students who she knew had promise and potential. Her counsel was invaluable, and her friendship and support unparalleled. I love Betsy Plank, and I’m grateful for the special moments we shared. – Del Galloway
  15. It was at an annual PRSSA meeting where Betsy and I were talking to a group of college students. Betsy treated those students as equals and the students felt very comfortable. She had this down-to-earth attitude and truly wanted to know what’s going on in the each student’s life. It was a humbling experience to witness. – Tom Hoog
  16. Without a doubt, my favorite memory of Betsy is the fact that she had the incredible insight to ask that the reigning president of the PRSSA serve on the Board of the Plank Center for Leadership in Public Relations.  The genius of this is that we are the only organization that has both senior level corporate communicators, some of whom have been the chief communications officers for major corporations for several years, along with some of the most highly respected academics in the country.  In addition it has a student that is the president of the PRSSA who has their finger on the pulse of what is happening in the profession today.  That stroke of genius on Betsy’s part is part of the reason that The Plank Center has had such success over the ten years and has accomplished so much.  It is also as financially sound as any organization in our profession. – Bill Heyman
  17. My favorite memory is seeing Betsy with a group of PRSSA members. Her face would light up and her enthusiasm was contagious. – Harold Burson

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