Walt Cannon, AT&T communications pioneer, dies at 76

SARASOTA, FL: Walt Cannon, a former corporate VP at AT&T credited for his role in the company's iconic "Reach out and touch someone" campaign, died June 27. He was 76 years old.

SARASOTA, FL: Walt Cannon, a former corporate VP at AT&T credited for his role in the company's iconic “Reach out and touch someone” campaign, died June 27. He was 76 years old.

Cannon also managed the historic 1984 Olympic Torch Run from New York to Los Angeles, and created one of the first TV co-productions between the US and the Soviet Union, resulting in the 1973 NBC special, Peggy Fleming in the Soviet Union. He oversaw the creation of an undersea cable between the US and Japan and early satellite and space communications.

Cannon's son Jeff, president of the Cannon Group, said that his father “definitely influenced PR as an industry all the way through his career, looking at bigger picture projects and not just press releases.”


Cannon, whose full name was Jeff Walton Cannon, began his career as a journalist at the Dallas Times-Herald, The Dallas Morning News, and the Associated Press before joining AT&T and working in advertising, marketing, and PR.

 

Cannon also served on the board of the Lincoln Center Theater, the national Hispanic organization La Raza, and the Cuban-American Telephone Co., and was chairman of Planned Parenthood of Southwest and Central Florida from 2002 to 2006. He battled throat cancer for five years, according to the Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

 

“An ongoing joke with him was, ‘My God, now they have classes that teach public relations. In the 1960s and 1970s, I think [PR] was more journalists and writers that thought this was more of a new and fun venture than an actual industry,” the younger Cannon said. “I think that his approach to communications overall was something that really led the field back then. With his civic activities from nonprofits to Planned Parenthood… there was a real commitment to the industry, rather than just to his career.”

 

Cannon and his wife, Weta, were married for 50 years. He is survived by two other sons in addition to Jeff - Marc and Jon - and a daughter from a previous marriage, Kathleen Rogers.

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