PR ‘Matriarch’ Ruth Edelman, 1929-2013

Today brings news that in some way touches everyone in the public relations industry: Ruth Edelman, who helped build husband Daniel’s eponymous firm into the world’s largest, died this weekend at 84 after a brief battle with leukemia.

The Chicago Sun-Times describes Ruth as the firm’s “matriarch”, but of course her role went well beyond “pick[ing] out the lamps and furniture” for Edelman’s first Chicago office.

In fact, she was something of a bellwether for powerful women in the industry, and her networking skills were legendary. Son and current president/CEO Richard Edelman explains:

“She was my dad’s kind of silent partner…In the present generation, she would have been an executive, but in the ’50s she was the corporate wife. She never had a formal title while my dad was alive, but everybody knew she was the power behind the throne.”

Richard took the opportunity yesterday to write a very personal blog post in remembrance of his mother, describing her as “the best entertainer in Chicago” who held events for local politicians, “charmed many a guest into becoming a client” and raised her children using the “KITA philosophy of Kick in the Ass.”

Ruth also performed a variety of charity work during her life: one of her pet causes was mental illness, and she worked extensively with the National Depressive and Manic-Depressive Association as well as other groups like Save the Children and the Chicago Art Institute.

At the time of her death, Ruth served as deputy chairman of Edelman parent company DJE Holdings; in 2010 the company named its first integrated marketing unit in her honor. Ruth Edelman’s husband and company founder Daniel J. Edelman died in January at 92, and together they were unquestionably the most powerful couple in the PR field at large.