Speech: Pat Ford, 2014 Legacy Honoree


HAROLD BURSON: Thank you very much for welcoming me here. I’m very happy to be in Chicago. I’m very happy to be anywhere at my age. [LAUGHTER]

And I’m even more happy when I know where I’m at. [LAUGHTER]

We’re here tonight to really celebrate the work that Betsy Plank has done in the area of mentoring. And really what is, is an assurance of the supply of future leaders to fill the ever-complex problems and bountiful opportunities that will engage our future clients and employers.

I think most of us recognize that public relations savants are made. They’re not born. So, we’re here to honor those individuals in our collective midst who have given their lives, and their time, and their efforts to share their unique experiences. To develop the quality talent that matches up with tomorrow’s demands in the public relations field.

Which brings me to why I’m here. And that is to present to my colleague and friend of 25 years or so, Pat Ford, this award. Pat is one of the people that I have worked with, who has been in our organization. And there have been about 35,000 of them, I think, all together.

Most of them here tonight. Pat is sort of the ideal, has the ideal profile for this kind of a job. He started out on a newspaper. He went to work for a leading policy institute in Washington, the American Enterprise Institute. And he has been with Burson now for a quarter of a century.

And he, I suspect, throughout that period. If we ever had a popularity contest of who you wanted to work for. Pat Ford would have won hands down throughout his career. He’s been a great friend. He’s been a great comfort to me on many occasions. We first met, if you can believe it, in Tokyo.

And Pat was with American Enterprise Institute then. We had just gotten the Korean Olympic Games for 1988. And I was travelling through Asia with Philip Habib who was one of our great diplomats, he was Undersecretary of State. And Phil introduced me to Pat, it was in 1984. And about five years later our Washington manager had the good sense to hire Pat.

And the rest in our company is sort of history, where Pat is a real legend. And I’m very happy that I am here to see him get his due in the way of an honor such as Betsy Plank has established. I think Betsy and Pat probably are cut out of the same mold.

They would really go to people, they would get things done. And I’m just so really overwhelmed that he’s been recognized in the way he has been. So, congratulations Pat and good wishes to you.


PAT FORD: A little adjustment needed here. So, I’m not sure how I follow that but thank you, Harold.

I don’t usually use notes but my boss Don Baer is here and I don’t want to screw up, just kidding Don. Those were much too kind comments, Harold, but thank you. I like them.

Reminded me of, I used to work for a political figure who would get introduced like that and he would say I wanted to start with a prayer, dear Lord please forgive Harold for those exaggerations and lies about me.

And even more, God, please forgive me for liking it so much.

But I also, Harold, want to thank you for all the lesson I’ve learned from you and not only about how to be a better PR professional but how to be a better person. And I think the character and the values that you bring to our business have inspired so many of us in countless ways, but also set a standard in our profession that just is uplifting every time I see you in a crowd like this.

Because I think so many people recognize that and appreciate it and it’s not just because you’re a great PR guy. It’s because of what you stand for and the values that you’ve really handed down to all of us for so many years. So, to the extent that I’ve been in any way helpful to people as a mentor, I really think a big part of that is the inspiration that I’ve received from Harold.

And the fact that you came here tonight to do this, really beyond words, I’m grateful and I’ll treasure this night for the rest of my life. I’d also like to thank the Plank Center and everybody here, including Don, for this honor. I’m especially gratified to stand alongside the other recipients tonight which is really an extraordinary group.

We spent the afternoon together. But also, I’ve been long time friends with Andy Polansky and Wendi Strong, among others. And so, it’s really especially an honor to be in that group and so I was touched by that too. And so, when I got the call from Bill Heyman a little while back, I was incredibly moved and surprised, but again, I liked it.

But I have to confess that after I hung up the phone with him, my first reaction was I’m too young to get an award that’s for legacy.


I know I’ve been at Burson for 25 years, but I haven’t given up the idea that I’ve got 25 more in me but I like it, and so I appreciate that.

As I told Harold when he sent me a wonderful note when I hit 25 years at Burson, and I called him up from Hong Kong, and of course, he answered his phone, and I said, Harold, it occurred to me if I stay another 25 years, I’ll still be 6 years younger than you.

And he said, well, I hope you do, Pat, and I have to tell you those next 25 are going to go much faster.

So, I appreciate that advice, Harold, as well. My other reaction as I recall was, really? They’re giving me an award for this? This is sort of like you’re giving me an award for shaving every day or brushing my teeth.

This is what we do. We teach. We learn. We do. That’s what our whole life cycle is about in this business. So, thank you and I really appreciate it but I was sort of like thinking, this is on the one-hand really special because of Betsy and because of the great board here at the Plank Center that they’re celebrating this notion and making sure we all understand the importance of not only handing down what we’ve learned but learning from that next generation.

To me, I have gained much more from the mentoring relationships I’ve had than I’ve given, much more. And I learned, I have two reverse mentoring relationships now one with our digital leader in India Yu Yu Din, and one with our digital leader in Beijing. And what I learned from them is so much more valuable than what I’m teaching now.

And not only about digital, and social, and the whole ecosystem in the social media world in China, but, also, Yu Yu is from Myanmar, which we’re all looking at right now. But also just how they as young professionals in Asia are learning our business, and it’s something we all have to keep doing and as we develop, be able to have those mentor relationships that are both ways.

And so, for me I’ve been blessed over these years not only when I was a reporter with some great editors, in my first PR job, the guy who the main principle in our firm was this wonderful guy from Nebraska who just spent endless hours not only teaching me about PR, but teaching me about Washington, and again teaching me about life.

Teaching me about how to be graceful, and generous, and kind. And I think also fondly about one such relationship for me at Burson, which started actually my first week in the job at Burson. When I came into my office, I think the second day or third day, I was in my office and I had this wonderful, gracious handwritten note from a guy I didn’t know who was in our Chicago office.

And he wanted to welcome me to Burson-Marsteller, he wanted to tell me about how glad he was I was there, which I was really touched by. And how he’s looking forward to working with me. And when I started asking around, I found out this guy is sort of a legend in Burson-Marsteller, and kind of a big deal in the Chicago business community.

So, I did what we all should do. All the students here. I picked up the phone and I called him. And I said, thank you for the note. And I tried to start a conversation about our business, and that started a dialogue on, I’m going to say, June 11th, 1989, that continues to this day.

And I have learned so much from John LePage who’s sitting right here next to Harold. And so thank you, John.

And I have many other mentors in this group and in the city, but I think the key point I wanted to make was that throughout these relationships, it’s so important that whether we think of ourselves as the teacher or the student, the mentor or the mentee.

That we’re constantly asking, and constantly probing, and constantly learning. And I value every one of those relationships I’ve had there, and I appreciate that somebody has felt it was worth this award. Because I feel like all that joy and fulfillment I’ve had, and maybe some of you others who’ve received these awards, I’m looking at Ann now.

You already got all these rewards from those relationships and now this great organization founded by and named after, inspired by one of the legends and giants in our business, wants to give me an award for it. So, thank you Plank Center, thank you Plank Center board, but wow I would have done it for nothing.

And I still would do it for nothing. And so, if I may, I’d like just a little bit of indulgence to thank one more of my most special mentor, which is my wife, PJ, who’s sitting here. PJ’s taught me so much about what’s important in life. She’s a nurse.

Does infinitely more important things than I’ve ever done. She was a flight nurse for many years in the Air Force and she’s wonderful at, having dealt with war wounds and many other serious illnesses and having been such an incredible caregiver for so many people in our families and our friends.

She has a wonderful way of keeping one grounded, and I come home and I start fretting about this or that crisis and she says, you think that’s a crisis? Try standing over a young soldier with a gaping chest wound and see how your crisis here stacks up.

And it’s important every now and then that we remember those things. We all deal with different challenges every day in life. But there are some people, PJ, for many years but many people right now dealing with some challenges and crises that are much more significant than we deal with.

But in any case, it’s been wonderful to learn from you and to be with you. And to feel like I’m there at the front lines all the time. So, thank you again to the mentors and mentees from whom I’ve gained so much. And thank you to the Plank Center.

I would say that I hope that in some way I can help everybody that all the students that we met with earlier today and that are here tonight to have even a fraction of the fulfillment and the joy, and the gratification that I’ve had in this business. So, I look forward to doing that, and with all of you, and thanks to all of you for this award.



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