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Richard Edelman recalls his father Dan Edelman’s unstoppable spirit

Richard Dan Edelman

Richard and Dan Edelman

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Updated: January 20, 2013 9:37PM

This is an excerpt of the speech Richard Edelman made at his father’s memorial service on Friday at Temple Sinai in Chicago.

Dan Edelman was born in New York City in 1920; his formative years coincided with the Great Depression. His parents were first-generation Americans, and in public school, he shared a bench seat with another student —“half a cheek is all I got.” This explained his ferocious competitiveness, his zero-debt philosophy for his company, why he wore his suits until they were shiny and why he kept a car, usually a Buick, until it fell apart. He was the last of this generation of Edelmans, all of whom achieved success.

He was always a communicator. Sick with mumps and confined to his room at age six, he slipped typewritten notes under the door for his siblings with his special food requests. He loved his time spent as a sports editor in Poughkeepsie, N.Y. and as a radio news writer for CBS in New York City. A veritable media omnivore, Dan would devour four newspapers at breakfast. He had to be the best-informed man in town.

He was transformed by his military service in World War II. He was one of thousands of men who fought in Europe against the Nazis, but his unique contribution was to listen overnight to enemy propaganda, then formulate an effective response via radio or leaflet drops.

He was a true entrepreneur — he wanted to be his own boss and wouldn’t sell out to ad agency holding companies. He once said in a speech, “We are supposed to be the corporate conscience.” But he also knew how to make the most of a potential news story. When the Toni twins were arrested in 1949 for practicing cosmetology without a license in Tulsa, Okla., he called the Associated Press photo desk. A picture of the twins behind bars ran nationwide, and he paid their bail before whisking them to New York City to appear on “The Today Show.”

Only when I began to work at the firm did I understand his relentless drive for perfection. We became partners in building a great global enterprise. I called him every day to brief him on the business, carefully listening to his advice. And he was tough and direct with me, my siblings and his employees. You had to bring a pad to every meeting to take detailed notes, and you could never wear ankle length socks for fear of exposing your calf when crossing your leg. Proposals would come back covered with felt-tipped pen marks that read, “Is this really a creative idea?”

This summer, in my 15th year as CEO, he told me that I should take over, that he was proud of what I had achieved.

My sister Renee absorbed his love for journalism, becoming a reporter and then a distinguished tech PR specialist, and my brother John carries on Dan’s connection to the community by ably managing our corporate responsibility program. But Dan loved my mother most of all. They held hands, they kissed, and could not be out of each other’s sight for long.

It was a rare privilege for me to work with my father so closely for 34 years. Now, I say goodbye to my best friend. As Shakespeare wrote in “Romeo and Juliet,” “Give me my Romeo; and, when he shall die/Take him and cut him out in little stars/And he will make the face of heaven so fine/ That all the world will be in love with night.”

There will never be another Dan Edelman — indomitable, ever modest, always resilient and ready for the next challenge.

Richard Edelman donated his fee for writing this column to the Lyric Opera.

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