UPDATED 20.35 4 January 2012 with comment from Bob Skinner
Britain’s PR profession is today mourning a legend: Douglas Smith, one of the best known public affairs practitioners of the past 50 years.
Doug, who died of a heart attack just before Christmas, was president of the (Chartered) Institute of Public Relations the year I joined the institute, 1990. He also chaired the Public Relations Consultants Association. Doug set up Westminster Advisers and was also involved with a number of other public affairs agencies. It’s ironic that Doug died when debate is raging again about Britain’s membership of the European Union. Early in his career, he worked as a press officer with Ted Heath on Britain’s first (unsuccessful) bid to join the EU’s forerunner, the EEC.
Doug helped the triumphant 1989 campaign against Foxley Wood, a proposed new town in Hampshire – taking advantage of the growing concern about the impact of large developments on the environment.
I first met Doug soon after that triumph, when I was working for Eagle Star insurance, one of his clients. (Eagle Star was proposing a similar new town, Micheldever Station; the outcome was the same – eventually.)
Doug was a joy to work with: astute, professional, brilliantly connected and above all joyous company. Over lunch in Westminster in 1998, after I left Eagle Star, he was full of ideas about what I might do next. ‘Why don’t you write the definitive book about PR for the insurance industry?” he asked me. ‘You’d be perfect for it!” I never wrote the book – I didn’t share Doug’s confidence in my expertise, and doubted whether the industry’s PR needs were distinct enough to justify the publication. But the encounter was typical of Doug’s concern for a colleague and enthusiasm for a new project.
Enthusiasm – that was the essence of Doug. He brought energy and passion to everything he did, whether it was making a case for or against a new development, explaining the vital need to educate people on the danger of fires – or sharing his love of cricket. His infectious, slightly high-pitched laugh made any meeting or party unforgettable.
I last met Doug last July, at my first CIPR fellows’ lunch at the House of Lords. Happily, my father Bob Skinner, a 1973 CIPR Fellow, joined me and greeted Doug years after they cooperated as PR local government pioneers. Dad gave Doug a copy of his book about his career in PR and journalism, Don’t Hold the Front Page. On a glorious summer’s day, Doug’s smile illuminated the terrace of the House.
Thanks for the laughter and memories, Doug.
PS: My father, Bob Skinner, adds:
“Doug was exceptional. He was the most effective advocate and supporter of local government I have ever met and that commitment continued throughout his incredibly distinguished career that reached national and international level. And he never lost that enthusiasm for local government, which he served so well in many ways.”