P. Lee Starkey, APR, Fellow PRSA, 1926 - 2012

    P. Lee Starkey, APR, Fellow PRSA, Col. USA (Ret.)

    If you are lucky, at least once in your career you connect with a seasoned professional who becomes much more than a role model. For me that person was P. Lee Starkey, APR. This extraordinary public relations practitioner passed away in Norfolk on September 21 at age 86. He was my friend and life cheerleader.

    For dozens of  Hampton Roads communications professionals and heads of nonprofits Lee was their go-to guy for wisdom, encouragement and good conversation often shared over breakfast at his favorite place -- D’Egg Diner in downtown Norfolk.

    “I definitely think of him as my mentor,” says Lynne Berg, executive director of Primeplus Norfolk Senior Center. “He taught me a lot and always looked for ways to celebrate other people’s accomplishments.”

    Lee was as generous with the kudos as he was with advice. You could count on him to let you know when you wrote something great, connected with your stakeholders in a new way, pulled off a fabulous event or had other public relations accomplishments.

    For Lee public relations was an accidental career. It cropped up after arthritis made his work as an Army paratrooper impossible. In the 1960s this World War II veteran seized upon an Army-paid opportunity to earn a degree in public relations from the University of Wisconsin. That degree propelled him into a new career.

    In 1974 Lee retired from the Army after heading public information efforts nationally for ROTC from Fort Monroe in Hampton. The next week he went to work in public relations at what is now Dominion Virginia Power and from there was on staff at several Hampton Roads advertising and public relations agencies and Virginia Natural Gas. He retired for good in 1987 but continued sharing his expertise as a volunteer with numerous Hampton Roads nonprofits.

    Vice president of Primeplus was Lee’s last board position -- one he reluctantly resigned from this summer because of failing health. Also benefitting from his volunteer expertise over the decades were Eastern Virginia Medical School, the USS Wisconsin Foundation, United Way of South Hampton Roads, Westminster-Canterbury on the Bay, Goodwill Industries, the Governor’s School for the Arts and the Norfolk Crimeline.

    For Lee being involved in the Public Relations Society of America was a critical part of his successful career. He was president of Richmond’s Old Dominion Chapter in 1980 and helped start the Hampton Roads Chapter in 1983. For several years he advised the PRSA student chapter at Norfolk State University. Mindy Hughes, APR, 2011 Hampton Roads Chapter president, recalls that Lee was the first person to respond last year when she sent an email asking for input on new board members. He told her he was a bit old for chapter service. She was impressed he still cared about PRSA and felt connected to it.

    In 1986 the Hampton Roads Chapter honored Lee by bestowing upon him its first Outstanding Public Relations Practitioner of the Year award.  In 1999 the Richmond PRSA Chapter honored Lee with its Thomas Jefferson Award for Excellence in Public Relations. One of his proudest accomplishments also came in 1999 – being named a PRSA College of Fellow. This honor has been bestowed upon just over long-time practitioners nationwide for their service to public relations and for being exemplary mentors.

    In addition to those formal accolades here is how several of Lee’s “mentees” describe him: “The father of public relations in our region, a gentleman, a patriot, someone who took care of the important details, a good listener, overwhelmingly honest, respectful of other’s opinions, clever in the way he got out messages, the one we all looked up to, and a life-long learner.”

    A celebration of Lee’s life will be held Friday, October 12, at Harbor’s Edge (One Colley Avenue in Norfolk) at 12:30 p.m.

    Sally Kirby Hartman, APR, is vice president of communications for the Hampton Roads Community Foundation. She met Lee Starkey in 1985 when she volunteered for the marketing committee for Eastern Virginia Medical School, which Lee headed. That led to Lee becoming her friend and mentor and to many excellent breakfast conversations.

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