Burson memorial service set for this month at Ole Miss

The industry trailblazer died last month at age 98.

A memorial service for Burson-Marsteller founder and PR industry founding father Harold Burson has been set for February 22 in Mississippi. 

The memorial is scheduled for 2 p.m. at the Paris-Yates Chapel on the campus of Ole Miss University in Oxford, Mississippi. A reception will be held afterward at the Lyceum on the Ole Miss campus. 

Burson died at age 98 on January 10

Voted the most influential PR professional of the 20th century, Burson’s career stretched back to World War II, when he reported on the Nuremberg war crimes trials that followed the conflict. He founded Burson-Marsteller in 1953 via a partnership with ad executive Bill Marsteller, then built the firm into an industry powerhouse with $4.4 million in revenue by 1969 and then $64 million, with 2,500 employees in 50 offices, a decade and a half later. In 1979, Burson sold the firm to ad agency Young & Rubicam, which was in turn bought by WPP in 2000. He stepped down as Burson’s CEO in 1988. Burson-Marsteller was merged with Cohn & Wolfe into BCW in early 2018. 

Even into his ninth decade, Burson was known to keep a schedule packed with meetings from the morning into the evening. He was a member of the inaugural class of PRWeek’s Hall of Fame, installed in 2013. Boston University’s College of Communications established its first academic chair in the field of PR, named for Burson, in late 2003. Burson also blogged about the industry and communications and business issues late into his career.

Burson brushed shoulders with powerful figures around the globe during his career. He enjoyed good relationships with U.S. presidents including Ronald Reagan — with whom he used to have monthly lunches — Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton, as well as the late former U.K. Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher.

His son, Mark Burson said that donations can be made in his father's memory to the Harold Burson Legacy Scholarship Fund at the School of Journalism and New Media at the University of Mississippi.

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