Jay DeBow, a financial and corporate agency pro who built Jay DeBow & Partners over 30 years in New York before selling to Omnicom, died Feb. 24 in Florida after a four-year bout with Parkinson’s disease. He was 81.
DeBow founded his eponymous firm in 1960 and spent three decades providing PR and IR counsel to clients like DieBold, Ashland Oil, Santa Fe International and Phillips Petroleum. Notable campaigns included launching the first bank credit card for BankAmericard, now known as VISA, and unveiling the ATM for client Diebold, initially to the banking industry and later to consumers.
He fostered meetings between client BankAmerica and the Russian government, built a public affairs program in Southeast Asia for construction giant RMK-BRJ during the Vietnam War, and created a London financial communications program for Ashland, among other globe-trotting assignments.
DeBow is a Long Island native who split his time between New York and Hypoluxo, Fla., in recent years. He was a graduate of Paul B. Schreiber High School in Port Washington, N.Y., and earned a B.A. in journalism in 1955 from the Univ. of Georgia in Athens, where he was a defensive tackle on its football team.
He started out in journalism at the Athens Banner Herald and moved to United Press before entering the agency world as a PR staffer at ad shop Merrill Anderson in New York. He founded his own firm at age 26 focused on corporate and financial work.
DeBow eventually sold the firm in 1992 to Omnicom, which folded it into Porter Novelli, and continued as a counselor to the firm for clients like First Nationwide Bank and Union Bank.
In the PR industry, he was a member of the board of directors of the National Investor Relations Institute and chairman of both its Ethics and Government Affairs Committees. He was a founder of and served on the steering committee of the Senior Investor Relations Roundtable and was a member of the special events committee of the New York Society of Security Analysts. He was also an active member of the Public Relations Society of America and its Counselors Academy for many years. He is survived by his wife, Suzanne Hayat DeBow; four daughters, Stacy Covey, Cary Smith, Jennifer DeBow, and Holly Carbo, from a previous marriage to Audrey Ellison DeBow. He is also survived by his brother Thomas DeBow, eight grandchildren and five great grandchildren.
A memorial to celebrate Mr. DeBow’s remarkable life will be scheduled in the summer. The family requests that remembrances take the form of contributions to The Salvation Army. He was chairman of the Manhattan Board of Advisors of The Salvation Army and a governor of The Metropolitan Club, where he was also chairman of the Membership Committee.
Robert P. Neely (Mar. 27, 2014): A wonderful tribute to a wonderful man and friend! I had the great good fortune of having brunch with Jay and Suzanne in Palm Beach where we shared many wonderful times in high school. He was a true friend and I will miss him!
Warren Scott Friedman (Mar. 9, 2014): I started working for Jay DeBow & Partners shortly after college. I was eager to break into PR, but didn't want to work for a large, impersonal agency at which I'd mostly be stuffing press kits. I was excited to land a "Jr. Account Executive" job (with business cards!) at Jay's shop. Before long I was pitching stories to the media, taking reporters out to lunch, writing press materials and brainstorming ideas for PR campaigns. Jay was a formidable presence, and he could be quite intimidating, but away from the pressures of running his namesake agency, he showed himself to be a kind person with a good heart. I fondly remember he and his wife Suzanne (co-head of the agency) taking me out to many lunches at sophisticated Manhattan restaurants (I'd arrived!) and making me feel special.
Jay and I were from totally different worlds--he being old school, Brooks Brothers, conservative and me being...well, none of those things--but he really "got" my humor and appreciated my unique personality. That meant a lot to me, even as he scolded me for wearing a turtleneck and blazer (out of the pages of "Esquire") one day to work!!
I've since transitioned to a career in Social Work. Today, almost twenty-five years later, I'm a Social Work Supervisor with Children's Protective Services. I recently was involved in spearheading a new initiative with the agency, one which called for a meeting of community stakeholders. A letter introducing the program was drafted and due to be sent out. I re-worked the letter, making it punchier, grabbing the reader's attention from the top, and did some edits to make it more concise. Everyone loved it and this is what got sent out. Well, I'll have you know, that I learned this skill at Jay DeBow & Partners. Cheers, Jay!
Anthony Dalessio (Mar. 6, 2014): Jay was a true professional. He was a mentor, friend and 'like family'. I will miss him. His presence was truly one of elegance and executive. He truly impacted the way I act. It was an honor to know him and to spend time with him.
Thomas R Keston (Mar. 5, 2014): It was with great sadness that I read of Jay's passing. He was a good and caring friend for more than 30 years. I will miss you Jay.
Shelley Spector (Mar. 4, 2014): Back in the seventies, Jay gave me my first big break. It was still a "Mad Men" era in PR, when very few young women right out of school were allowed to be professionals, much less, be allowed to work on big-name financial and energy clients. Jay not only "allowed" me; he gave me the courage to just dive right, sink or swim. Those early years set the stage for all the years after, and I have Jay to thank for making it all possible.
Suzanne DeBow (Mar. 4, 2014): This was magnificently done. Thank you.
James Arnold (Mar. 4, 2014): A wise counselor, a wonderful human being, and a great friend--I will miss him professionally and personally. I first met Jay and Suzanne through my work with Chet Burger in the early '80's, and in time established a different, more personal relationship through my work with Jim Holland at AARP for 14 years. Jim and Jay were college roommates at Georgia, both majored in journalism, and they remained close throughout their careers.
And of course I was delighted to continue our friendship throughout their retirement.