Speech given by Kevin Traverse-Healy, Deputy Lieutenant for the London Borough of the City of Westminster (IPR President 1985)
President, Colleagues, Friends
I am pleased to be asked to talk a little about the earlier part of the Institute from two perspectives. Those of myself and my father, Professor Tim Traverse-Healy.
Tim is unable to make it here today, which at the age of 99 and 10 months is not perhaps surprising. But he sends his congratulations to the Institute that has been so dear to him - and his affection to you, his colleagues and friends.
Tim was a returner from military service in the second world war. His time up as a Royal Marine Commando, he hit civvy street with no real idea of what to do.
After a bit of freelance journalism, he was introduced to a start-up, lobbying and campaigning group called Aims of Industry which was fighting against the nationalisation of industries such as sugar and steel.
When asked what he would be good at there, he used a term that he thought interesting but had just picked up from an American paperback on jobs for returning GIs – “Public Relations”.
So, he became, at his own invention and without any real idea of what he was going to do, its Public Relations Manager.
While there, in 1948 he was approached by what he describes as a “small group of older men” who were practicing public relations from before and during the war.
They were meeting together, out of office hours, to articulate its principles and discuss their concerns regarding its practice and ethics.
These influential pioneers instilled in Tim a lifelong dedication to the cause of using the power of public relations in a responsible, ethical manner. If you want more, you can look up his last professional paper, which he called his Credo.
The fledgling Institute appointed Tim as its volunteer Recruitment Secretary, because his work at Aims of Industry had brought him a wide range of influential contacts within industry and among the few PR consultants then practising.
This was important to the growth of the Institute as the other founders were largely from the public sector and lacked commercial contacts.
By Tim’s account, their early meetings were a mixture of solemn consideration and raucous imbibing. One week they met in grand conference at the Cabinet Office; and the next in the backroom of the Dirty Dicks pub in Bishopsgate.
It is important to view the altruism of this group in the context of their times: having just experienced a devastating world conflict, they believed that with power, even soft power, comes responsibility. Our Institute’s founders wanted, in the brave new world of peace, for communication to be used as a means of improving co-operation and reducing conflicts in society.
That vision is as relevant today, as we suffer horrendous battles for freedom from tyranny in Ukraine, Iran and elsewhere.
Perhaps we have wandered a bit from this, especially under commercial influences and changing societal mores, but I hope we can aspire to keep their candle alight to some realistic degree.
Tim became our 20th President in 1967 at the age of 44. I was incredibly honoured to be elected to that role for 1985 at the even tenderer age of 36.
Mine was a period of substantial difficulty for the Institute. At my first Council meeting a couple of years earlier the main item on the agenda was whether we could keep running while insolvent!
However, the rescue strategy laid by my predecessors, Nevile Wade and Peter Smith; the determination and professionalism of our new Secretary, John Lavelle; and the resilience of my successor, the dear late Carol Friend, saved the day. This is not to deny the achievements of many Presidents and Councils before and after, but that was how it was.
At the time, I was in consultancy partnership with Mike Regester, and I must pay tribute to Mike, and those working with us, for running our company and making it flourish during my Presidential year.
Although much of my presidency was concerned with keeping the Institute afloat and making it more attractive to potential members, it did have some high points.
Most memorable was awarding my President’s Medal to Her Royal Highness Princess Anne, now the Princess Royal, for her work with Save the Children.
My embarrassment was that during the whole of the presentation ceremony, my badge of office was turned about and all she could see was a sticker on the back saying “If found, please return to the IPR” and its address – I suspect the ever-efficient John Lavelle was behind that one.
As a Deputy Lieutenant for Greater London, I have had the pleasure of receiving Her Royal Highness many times since, including at a celebration of her 50 years as Patron of Save the Children, but have never had the temerity to ask if she remembers that sticker. I know, however, that she remembers the Institute’s Medal.
I was asked recently if PR had proven a good career choice for me. I answered, as I know Tim would have done, that it was not a choice at first but a happy accident and it became a great choice to stay. It has not always been smooth sailing, but has been interesting, worthwhile, sometimes even uplifting and many times fun.
For me, choosing to move into public sector communications, first as an external advisor to a European Commissioner and Vice President; and then at the Cabinet Office’s central office of information, rejuvenated my pleasure in working in this field. I commend looking at the opportunities to affect real change in our society and communities that government communications can offer.
I continue to enjoy working in the field of European public communications as a strategist and evaluator and I am only sorry that the career pathway into Europe is now so difficult for our younger members and students.
As we celebrate the Chartered Institute’s 75th year - and my membership is coming up for 50 years - I sincerely congratulate all those members past and present and those who have served and befriended the Institute.
In wishing the Chartered Institute well for its future, I do so in the hope that the intentions and values of our founders can remain at the core of our present and that future.
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