Peter Morrissey, 59; public relations teacher and executive
By Bryan Marquard
| GLOBE STAFF
AUGUST 15, 2012
BU COLLEGE OF COMMUNICATION
At Boston University, Mr. Morrissey was among the most highly regarded professors.
A little more than a year before he died, Peter Morrissey wrote a blog post called "Guidelines for Creating Your Personal Reputation as Someone Worth Knowing."
Conversant in the ways reputations can be damaged or salvaged, Mr. Morrissey made his name as a public relations sage in the early 1980s as an adviser to the makers of Tylenol during the tampering and poisoning case.
In his blog, Mr. Morrissey offered readers advice that owed as much to his values as it did to a high-profile career in public relations. Ask yourself three things before speaking, he counseled: Is what you're about to say true, is it necessary that you say it, and is it kind?
"Always think of the feelings of others before you speak," he wrote in July 2011. "What you say may be the most logical statement in the world, but if it is hurtful, blunt, or uncaring - no amount of logic will convince the other of the merit of your message. Show real empathy."
Mr. Morrissey, who founded the firm Morrissey & Co. in Boston and was an associate professor of public relations at Boston University, died of complications from brain cancer Aug. 3 in Massachusetts General Hospital. He was 59 and lived in Weston.
"Peter Morrissey went about doing good," said Jack Connors, a founder of the Boston advertising firm Hill Holliday.
Some of that good could be seen in the assistance Mr. Morrissey and his agency offered charities. He served on the boards of organizations such as Morgan Memorial Goodwill Industries in Boston.
Mr. Morrissey's reputation, though, was based as much on his work and day-to-day life.
"You judge people by the company they keep," Connors said. "If Peter or Morrissey and Co. were promoting something, you knew it was pretty good. And as successful as he was as a businessman, he was even more successful as a friend and a family member and a member of the community."
At home, Mr. Morrissey taught his children that "the wealth of life comes from helping other people, not from anything else," said his son, Jack of Boston.
"Obviously, he was proud of his success, but he always told us, 'Do whatever you can to help other people.' It's a simple thing, and he led by example," his son said.
Joanne Hilferty, president of Morgan Memorial Goodwill Industries, recalled that Mr. Morrissey was fond of sending handwritten notes on small cards, an uncommonly personal gesture in an age given over to electronic communication.
"I'm probably one of dozens and dozens of people around Boston who has a collection of Peter's notes, because he was amazing about sending messages if he thought you needed encouragement, or if there was something he felt was well done," she said. "It was part of Peter's warmth and caring and generosity of spirit."
Warmth and caring are traits not often ascribed to those who ply the public relations trade for companies that are involved in a crisis, or trying to avoid one. Among Mr. Morrissey's clients through the years was W.R. Grace, which he advised on environmental issues, and Bank of Boston.
Writing in 2004 for the publication PR Week, John N. Frank included Mr. Morrissey among the "22 people who should be on the speed dial in a crisis," and said his "work with Tylenol makes him one of the godfathers of modern crisis communications. Even today, crisis communicators refer to that 22-year-old case as the textbook example of dealing with a crisis situation involving a product."
Born in Boston, Mr. Morrissey was the fourth of eight siblings. He graduated from English High School in Boston and went to Boston University, from which he graduated in 1975 with a bachelor's degree in communications and public relations. In 1991, he graduated from the Owner/President Management Program at Harvard Business School.
He played hockey at BU and ran the Boston Marathon five times. Mr. Morrissey served on the Boston Athletic Association's Board of Governors.
His first marriage ended in divorce.
In 1984 he married Carey Sherman, with whom he had two children, his son, Jack, and daughter, Halley, who now lives in New York City, as does Cara, Mr. Morrissey's daughter from his first marriage.
Mr. Morrissey rose through the public relations ranks swiftly. He launched Morrissey & Co. more than a dozen years ago and joined BU's faculty a few years later.
At BU, Mr. Morrissey was among the most popular and highly regarded professors, said Thomas Fiedler, dean of the College of Communication.
"The words that always come up when people talk about Peter is what a gentleman he was," Fiedler said. "I think that was the case in every sense: in the way he carried himself, in the way he treated other people, and in the expectations he had for himself."
Aimee Charest, a senior associate at Morrissey & Co., said that earlier this year, when he knew the progression of his illness was not going well, Mr. Morrissey sent her an e-mail that advised: "Keep learning. Knowledge is more valuable than money. Happiness more than anything."
"He believed it and that's how he lived his life," she said. "He was a very happy person. You didn't hear him complain about anything. Peter always quoted the Spanish proverb that said 'the road to paradise is paradise.' He would walk in and say, 'Another day in paradise.' "
In addition to his wife and three children, Mr. Morrissey leaves five sisters, Kristine Simpson of Danville, Calif., Joanne Sheppard of Wellesley, Louise Cocuzzo and Mary Dynan, both of Arlington, and Meg Prodromou of Winchester; and two brothers, Michael of Los Angeles and Robert of Brookline.
A memorial service will be held at 10 a.m. on Sept. 10 in St. Ignatius of Loyola Church at Boston College.
BC had been among Mr. Morrissey's past clients, and he had become friends with The Rev. William P. Leahy, the college's president.
"I always found him to be a voice of wisdom," Leahy said. "I saw him a couple of days before he died and he was still serene and full of faith."
Whether working with clients in a time of volatile crisis or coping with the decline of his own health, "there was a calmness about Peter," Leahy said. "He always conveyed that calmness and the attitude, 'We can get through this.' "
Bryan Marquard can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org