A Tribute to a Pioneering Friend: Marilyn Laurie

Last night I received notice of a memorial service in honor of a trailblazing woman who deserves a huge salute and thanks on behalf of so many—my longtime friend and onetime client Marilyn Laurie. I had not seen her in quite some time, and annual holiday cards kept me connected, but unaware of what she was going through. Marilyn’s obituary written by her devoted friend Dick Martin tells the details of her phenomenal career in communications, brand marketing and public relations, as well as her vast philanthropic and volunteer activities.

For today’s young women, the idea of having few or no female career allies or role models may seem oddly antiquated. Women have long since broken the boundaries that kept them apart and sometimes alone at the office. But in the 70s when Marilyn envisioned Earth Day in NYC and then over the next two decades, as she rose to the highest levels of AT&T, she didn’t have as much company.

She could fight fiercely within the boys’ club but she never stopped being a lady, in the most wonderful way and she never stopped reaching out to other women to pull them up alongside her, if they paid their dues.

When I was president of NWAyer, the ad agency that created AT&T campaigns from “Reach Out and Touch Someone” to the highly prescient “You Will”, Marilyn was the one (and nearly only!) woman I could turn to, who was near the top of the telecommunications giant.

In May of 1996, my boss suddenly left Ayer and I was thrown into the role of instant CEO under tremendous media fire and attention. At day’s end, I went to a reception where Marilyn was receiving the coveted Human Relations Award of the American Jewish Committee. I was pretty freaked out by my day’s events yet kept a stiff upper lip as I joined her fans. My husband Joe was in attendance and he confided to Marilyn what had just happened, and she asked, “Is there anything I can do to help?” And Joe said, “Don’t fire her agency.”  She didn’t and in fact, guided me through some challenging business times, always with her clear and honest point of view and her personal style of encouragement, understanding and high expectations.

The business world has lost an incredible talent and leader in Marilyn. I feel I’ve lost a special woman who never forgot how to reach out and touch someone with her gentle and brilliant spirit. I won’t be able to go to her memorial service because that night, I am scheduled to speak to a large group of women about their careers. Guess who I will be channeling that night?

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