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PRSA mourns the loss of Robert B. Wolcott Jr., APR, Fellow PRSA; former Society leader had profound impact on the development of the profession

June 22, 2007

Robert “Bob” B. Wolcott Jr., a former international PR executive, past president of PRSA and Los Angeles area civic leader, passed away Tuesday, June 19, at his home in Laguna Niguel, Calif., due to natural causes.  He was 86.

Through his professional career, organizational leadership and philanthropic contributions, Wolcott is credited for advancing the PR profession in its early years and helping major corporations succeed through strategic communications and investor relations counseling.  As a PR executive who counseled hundreds of corporate executives in the United States, Europe and Asia, Wolcott assisted companies through times of crisis, major financial transactions and acquisitions, product launches and key announcements.

Wolcott served as PRSA’s president in 1966, the first practitioner from the Western United States to hold that position. In his service to PRSA, Wolcott founded the Counselors Academy, the first special interest section within PRSA. In 1967, Wolcott formed the Public Service Council of PRSA, which provided volunteer services to such national entities as the Peace Corps. The Council galvanized the formation of local Chapter Public Service Committees, which blossomed quickly to cover the nation and the Council also set up an annual Award for the Best Chapter Public Service activity. Wolcott was a founding member, vice president and director of the National Investor Relations Association. He formed the Consultants Group of the International Public Relations Association. In addition, he served for more than 20 years on the UCLA Medical Center Board, chairing it for three years. He was a long-time Associate member of the National Security Analysts Society.  

“I know that I speak for all the members of the Public Relations Society of America in mourning the passing of this tremendous icon in our field. Bob Wolcott was an inspirational leader and mentor to thousands of public relations professionals and students,” said Rhoda Weiss, APR, Fellow PRSA, PRSA’s chair and CEO. “We will all miss him greatly.”

In 1950, Wolcott started the Wolcott and Associates PR firm in Los Angeles and quickly expanded with offices in San Francisco, New York and Washington, D.C.  Wolcott soon built the firm into one of the largest in the United States. In the late 1950s, Wolcott and Associates entered the realm of investor relations and within five years became the largest firm in this field.

Wolcott’s clients over the years included MGM, Sunkist Growers, MCA/Universal Studios, Litton Industries, General Telephone, Natomas, Voit Rubber Co., the American Dairy Association, Lionel Corp., Occidental Life Co., Western International Hotels, Maui Land & Pineapple Co., the Irvine Co., the 1967 World Expo in Montreal and the Seattle World’s Fair of 1962, the California Savings and Loan Association, First American Title, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority of Los Angeles, Union Pacific’s land company, FCA and many more. 

Early in his career, Wolcott insisted on providing PR counseling directly to a company’s chief executive. This effort, along with those by other PR pioneers of the time, resulted in many chief executives at major U.S. corporations recognizing that public relations and strategic communications were critical components of executive management and organizational structure. In the 1960s, many corporations created executive communications and public affairs positions in recognition of the importance of public relations to a company’s success. 

As a PR executive, Wolcott also nurtured the careers of hundreds of professionals. 

“Bob had a profound impact on the development of the PR business and in furthering its role as a respected management function,” said Kirk Stewart, executive vice president at APCO Worldwide and former CEO of Manning, Selvage & Lee. “More important, he was a mentor, friend and counselor to hundreds of young professionals over his 50-year career. We all owe him a huge debt of gratitude for what he did for us and the industry.”

“Bob Wolcott was the consummate PR professional — a ‘man of all seasons’ capable of handling a broad range of issues and equipped to bring top bear a broad range of PR tactics,” said Harold Burson, APR, Fellow PRSA, chairman of Burson-Marsteller. “He was my business associate for a decade during the 1970s and 1980s — but even more important to me, he was my friend for half a century. His many friends in public relations will miss him.”

In 1974, he merged his firm Wolcott and Co. — as it was then known — with Burson-Marsteller, where he was named executive vice president in charge of West Coast and Asian operations. Wolcott later left Burson-Marsteller to start his own firm focusing on executive counseling. 

For the next 23 years, he was retained by many companies for a variety of executive consultant assignments — from helping a newly publicly held company develop an investor relations program; to evaluating existing corporate communications programs and making recommendations to management for changes, expansion, etc.; to special projects like a new product or service introduction.  He remained active in public relations until 2000.

Wolcott began his career in New York City with the Time-Life Publishing Company, working as a journalist and special assistant to the publisher to organize special events for the magazine conglomerate at national political conventions and international forums across the United States. This assignment also included developing joint promotional programs with NBC television. Early in his career he was also a lobbyist and political campaign coordinator in California.

Wolcott donated significant amounts of his time and expertise to regional and local causes and organizations. He was a founder of the Friends of Golf, a non-profit organization that to date has contributed more than $4 million in golf-related scholarships to college students and other youth golf organizations.  Wolcott also served on the 1984 Los Angeles Olympic Organizing Committee and was a board member of the UCLA Foundation.  He donated his time and experience to a number of other organizations, including the Los Angeles Mission, the California Club and the Oakmont Country Club.  He oversaw the writing and publishing of a book on the history of the California Club. He also was a founding member of the Friends of Jazz at UCLA.

Wolcott was an avid international traveler, golfer and reader.  Along with his first wife, Ruth, he yearly visited countries in Europe, Asia and South America. Having read scores of novels and biographies, Wolcott late in life used his appreciation of modern literature in leading book seminars at a local retirement community.  He also helped found the Terrible Twenties golf group.

Wolcott is survived by his sister, Helen Bagley; wife, Sharyle L. Sponsler; daughter, Robin Fayette; sons, Denis and Steve; seven grandchildren; a niece and two nephews.

In lieu of flowers, the Wolcott family requests donations to be made to the Ruth Denas Wolcott Endowed Scholarship in Music Performance at UCLA’s Department of Music. For donation information, contact the UCLA Arts development office by phone at (310) 825-2512, e-mail at development@arts.ucla.edu. The scholarship assists student musicians and was named in honor of Robert’s first wife, Ruth, an accomplished musician.

A celebration of Wolcott's life will be held Sunday, July 8, at 1 p.m. at the Reef, 880 Harbor Scenic Drive, Long Beach, CA  90802.

Wolcott received a bachelor’s degree from UCLA in 1943. He received numerous awards and commendations for his service to local organizations and for his contributions to the PR profession.
 

 

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