Friday, September 23, 2011
Remembering PPRA's Nessa Forman
Every year, when the circus came to town we were there. I'm not sure which one of us enjoyed the spectacle of the circus more but I do know that we were like a couple of kids as we sat in the audience and gazed on in amazement at the greatest show on earth.
And this year we enjoyed every moment of the show just like every other year. We enjoyed it just as Nessa always enjoyed every moment of her life, even as she was weakened by an insidious illness.
From the moment that I first arrived in Philadelphia (a long time ago) to practice public relations I heard about Nessa Forman. Nessa was an editor at the old Philadelphia Bulletin and she was known as a first rate journalist -- scrupulous, thorough, unflappable, but patient and caring as well. Though she worked right alongside the guys in the tough, deadline-driven world of a big city daily newspaper, Nessa never developed a hard edge. Yes, she was keenly aware of the human condition but, more often than not she merely smiled knowingly at the shortcomings of others just as she routinely poked fun at herself. She never became a cynic.
By the time I got to know Nessa as more than just an acquaintance she had very smoothly transitioned to the world of public relations and assumed the title of vice president of corporate communications and public affairs at WHYY Inc., Philadelphia's public broadcasting outlet.
I was president of the Philadelphia Public Relations Association (PPRA) in 2002 when Nessa was nominated for induction into the Philadelphia Public Relations Hall of Fame. Nessa was so well-respected and had so many friends that she was voted into the Hall on the first ballot. Then, it was my job to call Nessa and give her the good news. We met for lunch to begin planning her Hall of Fame induction luncheon and that's when a beautiful friendship developed.
Over a period of nearly ten years Nessa and I grew closer. We exchanged stories, shared confidences and enjoyed many good times together. When I was inducted into the Hall of Fame, we became veritable partners. For many years the two of us co-chaired PPRA's annual Hall of Fame induction ceremony. I have to say that I never could have done the job without Nessa. She did most of the work. I was there just to be with Nessa.
Nessa wouldn't want to be called a pioneer but that's what she was - no question about it.
She was one of the first women to advance to a leading role in Philadelphia journalism and then became a model for all women professionals as a corporate executive. The words "worthy of emulation" were written to describe her. In 2005, the Philadelphia Business Journal named her a woman of distinction. She was all that and more. And she had all of the awards and honors to prove it.
But Nessa remembered the first rule for a good PR person: Have a passion for anonymity. She never, ever promoted herself. She was modest and unassuming. Though she was incredibly smart, quick and diligent, she also found the time to be kind and attentive. Consequently, she had many, many friends who were more than happy to sing her praises. And it's fair to say that in the tight knit world of Philly PR and journalism she was truly beloved.
Sometimes when Nessa and I were together I would vent all my frustrations and/or disappointment with one predicament or another or one personality or another. While never speaking ill of anyone, Nessa would simply laugh and redirect my energies toward more pleasant endeavors . She understood -- and she knew better.
Toward the end, Nessa managed her illness with grace, dignity and, yes -- courage. The closest she ever came to even talking about her predicament was confiding: "This is the hardest thing I've ever done."
Now it will be so hard for me to bid adieu to such a treasured friend. So hard.
And this is unfair -- not just to Nessa but to all of us who loved her and cared about her.
Still, we know we were lucky to call this gracious lady our friend. And, thanks to her, our hearts are full of so many happy memories -- so many cherished moments.
Dan Cirucci is one of the most widely honored public relations professionals in his field. He is a Lecturer in Corporate Communication at Penn State Abington and a former President of the Philadelphia Public Relations Association. This piece was first published on his blog at www.dancirucci.com.