Written by: Judy Phair, APR, Fellow PRSA
Throughout his life and career, Jack Felton made a significant and positive impact on our Society, our profession, and our Maryland Chapter. Jack’s first public relations job was in the military as an information officer in the USAF Strategic Air Command and he later worked as a public relations executive with U.S. Steel and Interstate Brands. However, we in the Maryland Chapter came to appreciate his dedication and leadership during the many years he served as corporate vice president of communications at McCormick Spice.
Jack was a great role model for those of us who aspired to have a “seat at the table.” He exemplified the importance of personal and professional integrity, and of giving back. Jack and his wife Ann were active volunteers for numerous charitable causes in the community, and Jack was a tireless PRSA volunteer and leader, advocate for the profession, and mentor to students and other professionals.
On a personal note, Jack got me involved in PRSA and the Maryland chapter. I’d met Jack and his team at McCormick when I worked for another corporation in Hunt Valley. I was a newcomer to the state, and Jack and my boss encouraged me to attend a few PRSA meetings. Shortly thereafter Jack became chapter president and recruited me to chair the Education Committee. Of course, I was hooked. I had also found a lifelong mentor and friend, whose advice and support was always valued.
Jack never did get to complete his term as our chapter president. The national president resigned early in his term in 1985, and Jack was asked to take over. He completed that term and then served another full year as national president in 1986. He was, I think, the only PRSA president ever to serve two terms – not an easy task, but he did it beautifully.
Public relations education and research were always strong interests for Jack, so when he retired from McCormick in 1995, he embarked on a new career as a professor at the University of Florida and established the Institute for Public Relations Research on the Gainesville campus. After retiring again in 2004, Jack and Ann traveled around the world, but he always found time for PRSA.
Jack said that it was his ability to write that opened doors for him early in his career. He used his writing skills in other ways, too. He loved theater, and he wrote and produced many plays — while holding one of the most demanding jobs in town. He was a man with considerable energy and talent – along with great charm, and a wonderful sense of humor.
Two years ago, Jack lost Ann, who was a true partner in all aspects of his life and who attended almost every PRSA conference with him. This past October was the first time in many years that Jack was unable to attend the Annual Conference – the trip to San Francisco was too much. He was missed, but we thought he’d be back this year. Now there will be a seat at the table of PRSA leadership that no one can fill. We remember and miss him – and we are grateful for all the contributions he made to take our profession to new levels.