Harold Burson, co-founder of Burson-Marsteller with Bill Marsteller, was given a 90th birthday party by more than 500 friends and business associates last night at Gustavino’s restaurant under the 59th Street Bridge.

Well-wishers came from 40 countries including Australia and India to fete the PR executive who built one of the largest PR firms in the world.

Burson speaks at last night's event.
Burson gave a lengthy address to the gathering, expressing first his sorrow that his wife Bette could not be present to witness the celebration. She died Sept. 16 in the 63rd year of their marriage.

Burson described himself as consistent if nothing else -- having one marriage, staying with B-M since its founding in 1953, and even keeping the same breed of dog for 40 years -- West Highland White Terrier.

Burson's dog, Robby
Among those attending were president and CEO Mark Penn and four regional CEOs of the firm -- Jeremy Galbraith, Europe; Santiago Hinojosa, Latin America; Patrick Ford, U.S., and Bob Pickard, Asia-Pacific.

Recalls Childhood

Burson traced his life back to his childhood when he showed an early interest in reading and writing.

Born in Memphis, he graduated from high school at the age of 16 and received an A.B. from the University of Mississippi in 1940 when he was only 19. His first job was with the Memphis Commercial Appeal as a reporter from 1940-41.

He served in the U.S. Army from 1944-46 and credited his experiences there as being helpful throughout his business career.

After being a PR consultant from 1946-52, he teamed up with Marsteller to create an ad/PR firm that would concentrate on providing across-the-board services to heavy industrial companies.

“There weren’t too many firms that were doing that then,” Burson told the O’Dwyer Co. in 1977. He likened the agency to a “department store” where any and all services were provided to clients. There was a “commitment to growth” and particularly to geographical expansion.
Burson sports a "90" jersey at the event.
Burson with Bob Grupp, CEO of the Institute for PR
burson, grupp's
R-L: Ray Gaulke, former president of Marsteller and COO of PRSA,
Burson, and Sydney Gaulke.
Monitors showed photos of Burson as a young man.
burson, o'dwyer's
Jack O'Dwyer, Burson, Lucille O'Dwyer (Photo: Jim Arnold)

Comes to Work Each Day

Burson, who comes to work each day from his home in Scarsdale, discussed his current life in a recent blog entry.

Although technically retired in 1989, he continued to be involved in new business, cementing client relationships, visiting domestic and overseas offices and taking part in “institutional and ceremonial events.”

His blog said there was no talk about how long this phase of his career would to go on.

He wrote:
As my September days move into October, or even November, I pause every now and then to reflect on the life I have led and what, given the opportunity to live it over again, I would do differently. My considered conclusion is that I would change very little.

My life in public relations has been fulfilling and rewarding. The people I've worked with, the challenges I have faced, the places I have visited, the recognition I have received -- I cannot think of any other career that would have brought me nearly as much satisfaction and as much pleasure.

Although we scoff at the young person who says "I want to go into public relations because I like people," I have come to believe there's real wisdom in that statement. For me there is nothing I have valued more than the friendship and support of fellow public relations practitioners. Almost invariably, they, in a phrase often employed by my Father, are people "in the know."

None more so than those who gave of their wisdom and energy to make Burson-Marsteller the global institution it has become over the past 58 years. Each and every one of them and those comprising my immediate family – Bette, my wife of 63 years until last September 16, and our two sons, Scott and Mark. They, too, carried their share of the load as I traveled the world and did my thing. It's been one heck of a ride!

(Photos by Jack O'Dwyer)