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James McKee (1916-2017), a Founder of St. Louis PRSA

By Glynn Young, APR, Fellow PRSA
Communications Director, PRSA St. Louis 

The St. Louis chapter of PRSA was founded in 1949 by 14 local PR professionals. One of those professionals, James McKee, died Dec. 3, three days shy of his 101st birthday. 

I met Jim in June of 1978, when I was interviewing for a position in the Corporate Public Relations Department. He was the Director of the department. He was kind, affable, interested in who I was and where I came from, and he seemed to know everyone (including people I was working with at my current company in Houston). 

Jim joined Monsanto right after World War II. He had been a reporter for United Press International in Miami, Atlanta, Memphis, and Nashville. He represented that generation of PR professionals that came out of the newspaper and (later) the television business – in mid-20th-century America, colleges didn’t offer degrees in communications or PR. PR people came with journalism and English degrees, or no degree at all. 

Jim, working for Dan Forrestal, handled communications for what it still the worst industrial accident in the history of America – the Texas City disaster of 1947. Almost 600 people were killed, many of them Monsanto employees. 

He spent 35 years at Monsanto, retiring about two years after I joined the company. He was 65, but he wasn’t ready for retirement. He joined Batz Hodson Neuwoehner as a senior consultant and a few years after that became the community relations manager for the cleanup of the Weldon Spring nuclear waste site. 

He served PRSA over a long period of time. Not only was he a founder, he was also president of the local chapter in 1960-61. He was chair of PRSA’s Midwest District in 1982 and 1986. He was twice a member of the PRSA National Board. He was the local chapter’s Accreditation chairman when I was accredited, and because of the study sessions, written exam, and interview, I actually got to know Jim better through PRSA than I did at Monsanto. 

Jim was also an old-style St. Louis corporate executive. He gave back to his community. Some of his activities included being president of the Adult Education Council, a trustee of John Burroughs School, a board member of the Press Club, and a member of the St. Louis Social Planning Committee. 

A few years ago, I ran into Jim at the local supermarket in Warson Woods. He was hard to miss – holding himself tall and straight, he towered over others. He was in his mid-90s at that time and looked 30 years younger. The word that comes to mind when I think of him is “gentleman.” 

His experience, his career, and his attitude have a lot to teach us. He was one of the giants of St. Louis PR. 

Top photograph: Downtown St. Louis in the 1940s.

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