Nearly a hundred people gathered to memorialize alumnus and media mogul Harold Burson on Saturday in Paris Yates Chapel, a place his closest friends and family said he would consider home. Some of those closest to Burson delivered eulogies in honor of him.
“In life, as in business, Harold never wavered in his belief that people were at the heart of what made it all worthwhile,” Don Baer said in his speech. Baer is the former CEO of Burson-Marsteller and current chairman of Burson Cohn & Wolfe, the merged agency of Burson-Marsteller and Cohn & Wolfe that started in February 2018.
Mark Burson, the son of Harold Burson and an integrated marketing communications professor, spoke about his father’s service.
“I think what we heard today was a summation of what made my father such a compelling figure,” he said. “He had just this unbridled belief in the potential for each of us to be the best we could be … I think when you try to measure his legacy, it’s measured in all of the success stories that he helped launch.”
Shuri Fukunaga, representative director and chief executive officer of Persuade Incorporated, does not think that Harold Burson’s memorial is supposed to mean his impact on the world is over.
“It’s not really closure,” Fukunaga said. “It’s still open in the sense that his legacy really lives in our hearts.”
For her, Burson’s professional wisdom is the part of his legacy that she carries with her. Fukunaga said he was like her compass, guiding how she approached business interactions.
Working for Burson-Marsteller since 1986 and its Japan division since 2003, Fukunaga recently started her own company, which was named after Burson’s book, “The Business of Persuasion.”
Burson’s legacy also lives on in academia as well. Robin Street, a lecturer in journalism and public relations at the university, teaches students about Burson as part of her introduction to public relations course.
“I teach them that what Elvis was to rock ‘n’ roll, Harold Burson was to PR,” Street said. “His influence is going to last forever … He taught all of us that what you should always teach in public relations is that a company should do the right thing for its public — whether that’s their customers, their community or their employees.”
Burson died on Jan. 10 at the age of 98. He was known for revolutionizing public relations as an industry and being a bastion of diversity, inclusion and creativity in the field. Earning his education at the University of Mississippi beginning in 1936, Burson started as a journalist, interviewed people such as William Faulkner and witnessed the Nuremberg trials in Germany before he started PR-giant Burson-Marsteller in 1953.