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James Pitt

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James E. Pitt James E. Pitt, a long-time public relations executive who campaigned to persuade fellow PR professionals that their relevance in a democracy hinged on their willingness to address urgent social issues, died Dec. 18th at Methodist Hospital in Brooklyn, NY. He was 94 years old and had maintained a second home in the Berkshires for nearly 40 years. Mr Pitt first traveled to New York City in 1946 as a sergeant in the US Army Air Corps, where he wrote for Stars and Stripes. A year later, he joined Time magazine as a contributing editor, rising through the ranks to become the company's first director of corporate public relations. Mr. Pitt's views about the potentially constructive role of public relations took root in 1951,when Henry Luce, Time's co-founding publisher, personally assigned him to interview Everett R Clinchy, the newly appointed head of the National Conference of Christians and Jews. The NCCJ -- founded in 1928 in response to the poisonous anti-Catholic sentiments that attended Al Smith's presidential campaign wanted Luce to supply a young writer to prepare a brochure on the organization. The NCCJ, whose founders included Supreme Court Chief Justice Charles Evans Hughes, had recently broadened its mission, bringing diverse groups together to address interfaith divisions, race relations and social and economic injustice. It is now known as the National Conference for Community and Justice. Mr. Pitt's work with Clinchy marked the beginning of three decades of what he called a "rewarding and treasured collaboration." The brochure grew into Mr. Pitt's first book, a history of the NCCJ titled Adventures in Brotherhood (Farrar, Straus & Company 1955). In 1967, as chairman of the New York Chapter of the Public Relations Society of America, Mr. Pitt invited a succession of distinguished luncheon speakers, including New York City Mayor John V Lindsay and the psychologist Kenneth B Clark, to discuss how public relations professionals could help shine a spotlight on the problems of the cities in an especially turbulent decade. "Public relations practitioners have long been criticized for a failure to show sufficient interest in the world around them," Saturday Review magazine said in an editorial at the close of his chairmanship. "Pitt's greatest contribution is the emphasis on public service by Chapter members." Mr. Pitt remained active following his retirement from Time Inc., working in Washington to promote the National Program for Voluntary Action in 1969. He later returned to New York to work at the Community Service Society. In 1963, Mr. Pitt was the chief organizer of Time magazine's 40th anniversary dinner at the Waldorf Astoria, to which the magazine had invited virtually everyone who had ever been on its cover. The wall-to-wall celebrity gala drew 284 guests of honor, 228 media representatives and an audience of 1668. Bob Hope, the master of ceremonies, said from the dais that "I've attended a few affairs in my life but never anything like this." Mr. Pitt's abiding love of music brought him a measure of fame during his undergraduate days at the University of Texas, where he began to develop his talents as a jazz guitarist and singer/songwriter, performing at clubs in Austin with his big band, Jimmy Pitt's Knights of Note. In his later years, he devoted his public relations expertise to promoting the Jazz Ministry at St Peter's Lutheran Church in midtown Manhattan, where he worked closely with John Garcia Gensel, Pastor to the Jazz Community and the moving force behind the yearly church extravaganza known as All Nite Soul. Mr. Pitt, a native of the Texas Panhandle town of Quanah, had maintained a home in Sheffield for several years beginning in 1969. He later moved to a home in a converted charcoal factory in the Van Dusenville section of Great Barrington, ultimately acquiring a house in nearby Ghent, NY. His three children attended the former Stockbridge School in Interlaken, where he was a member of the board of governors. Mr. Pitt is survived by his sister, Patsy Frasier, of Flower Mound, Texas; his children, David, of Ghent, N.Y., a former music and theater reviewer for the Eagle; Timothy and his wife, Lisa, of Putnam Valley, N.Y., Debra, of Brooklyn, N.Y., and three grandchildren, Denielle, of Washington D.C., and Katharine and James, both of Manhattan. His former wife, Harriett Philmus Pitt, died in 2000. A memorial service is planned.

Published in The Berkshire Eagle on Dec. 29, 2011
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