Last Thursday night, Arthur Yann, Vice President of Public Relations for the Public Relations Society of America, was doing something most of us do every day. He was
commuting home from a long day at work when he suffered a massive heart attack and passed away. He was only 48. Just a few months younger than I am. In the same profession, doing the same things I do every day. It’s more than a shock – it’s just surreal. People our age don’t just suddenly die without warning. But he did. He left behind his wife Amy and his young daughter, Sofia, and lots of memories.
I first met Arthur at one of PRSA’s national Assemblies, the governing body of the professional society of which we are both members. Arthur was just settling into his role at PRSA; I was in my first year as a delegate representing my chapter. But I really got to know Arthur during the debate over the accreditation requirement for PRSA officers as part of our massive bylaws revision a few years ago. The delegates’ conference calls leading up to the Assembly were almost exclusively focused on this issue, and it engendered many passionate discussions. It also attracted the attention of a perennial PRSA gadfly, who sought to distort the debates as a tool in his never-ending vendetta against PRSA, and decided to use me as one of his tools. He did so by doctoring quotes and attributing them to me.
People who know me know that I am passionate about this profession, and I am extremely vocal about it. I generally don’t have to explain who I am to the staff at PRSA in New York. Being somewhat mouthy, as soon as I found out about the quotes I immediately spoke out against this publicly, and since it involved PRSA, I gave Arthur a call to give him a heads up. The gadfly was persistent…and so was I. Which means Arthur and I got acquainted rather quickly over the whole issue. It became an annual event for a few years, up to and including last fall’s International Conference.
When I feel strongly about something that attacks me personally, I can get pretty scathing, and Arthur had the unenviable task more than once of lowering my professional pressure gauge to manageable levels, getting me to voluntarily edit out some of my harsher rhetoric even though, in my opinion, it was my best writing.
He had a wonderful sense of humor, which is a must-have quality for this profession, especially when you are the PR person for the PR profession’s association. It was never more on display than at last fall’s Assembly, when we were talking in the back of the room during a break about our latest favorite single malt scotch. The members of the national nominating committee had a prank planned on Committee Chair Gary McCormick involving those countertop bells you see in businesses. A committee member walked up to me to get a bell – and I was caught red-handed. Arthur stopped mid-sentence, laughed, and then just asked if I had any spares.
The last time I talked to Arthur, we joked that one of these days we were going to gather the scotch drinkers at the conference for an evening sampling single malts and swapping favorites. We’d talked about doing it off and on, but it always ended up being “next year.” Unfortunately, we won’t get that chance now. But this fall, I will make sure that “next year” becomes “this year” – even though it won’t be the same without him. And I’ll never put off seeing friends again. Another lesson learned from Arthur.
Arthur meant a great deal to our profession, and everyone who knew him is grieving his loss. I can’t imagine how his wife and daughter feel at this moment, losing him so suddenly, and so close to Father’s Day. I know the Assembly and PRSA won’t be the same now. I hope some of the stories being shared on various blogs and PRSA’s Facebook page will bring comfort to his family. Amy and Sofia, please know you are in our thoughts and prayers.
Note: Additional tributes to Arthur from Bill Murray at PRSA can be found at In Memoriam Arthur Yann, from Gini Dietrich at Rest in Peace Arthur Yann, and from Martin Waxman at A Tribute to Arthur Yann, APR