Photo courtesy of James A. McAlister Funerals & Cremation

Helen Wilken O'Hagan

Charleston, South Carolina

Feb 7, 1931 – Jun 13, 2020 (Age 89)


February 7, 1931
June 13, 2020
Charleston, South Carolina


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James A. McAlister Funerals & Cremation Obituary

On June 13, 2020 Helen Wilken O’Hagan, loving sister, aunt and friend passed away with family by her side.

Helen was born on February 7, 1931, in Charleston, South Carolina. She was the daughter of John J. O’Hagan and Helen Wilken O’Hagan. In her childhood she got the nickname “Speedy” because she was always on the go and had something to accomplish, and accomplish she did! After high school, she attended the Dock Street Theater School and became their business manager for two years, learning the “in’s” and “out’s” of staging large events, which would become her life’s work. But Charleston wasn’t big enough for Helen. So, in 1955, she was off to New York City and quickly landed a job at Saks Fifth Avenue. Within three years she was made Director of Publicity and in 1975, she became their Vice President, Director of Public Relations and Special Events. She loved staging fashion shows and special charity events for Saks, particularly SFA/USA which highlighted the top American designers of that time Adolfo, Bill Blass, Geoffrey Beene, Carolina Herrera, Mary McFadden and Oscar de la Renta, who all became her lifelong friends. One of her great joys earlier in her career was going to Europe to photograph the upcoming collections from the major European designers, many of which she helped introduce into the US market. During these trips and her time at Sak’s she became very close to many members of the extended Ferragamo family. In 1986, she received the Chairman’s Award from Sak’s chairman, Mel Jacobs, who said, “She’s the conscience of the company. She’s the source of our roots. She’s played a crucial role in shaping Sak’s public image.”

After 39 years it was time to retire and spend time with her great friend, Claudette Colbert. They split their time between a beautiful beach house in Barbados and a Fifth Avenue apartment in New York City. In her later years she split her time between New York and Charleston, spending time with dear friends and family.

Helen is predeceased by her parents and brother, John (Johnny) O’Hagan. She is survived by her sister, Kathleen O’Hagan Blanchard, her nieces and nephews, Helaine Blanchard Christy, Paul Blanchard, Jay O’Hagan, David O’Hagan, Kathleen O’Hagan Hennessey and Frank O’Hagan, as well as many grandnieces and nephews, cousins and great friends.

Due to current circumstances her Mass of Christian Burial will be celebrated at St. Mary's Catholic Church at a later date.  The Rite of Committal will take place at St. Lawrence Cemetery.  

In lieu of flowers it is requested that donations be sent to The Dock Street Theater, 135 Church St, Charleston, SC 29401, the Restoration Fund at St. Mary’s Catholic Church, 89 Hasell St, 29401 or to Church of St. Vincent Ferrer, 869 Lexington Ave, New York, NY 10065.  

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I have such wonderful memories of a great boss and mentor. She was a strong force with a heart of gold and taught us all so much. This was a tribute I did for her retirement

I have wonderful memories of a great boss and mentor with a strong personality and a heart of gold. Found this pic and a tribute I did for her retirement

Helen was a true icon. She was a role model, mentor, inspiration to so many of us that were lucky enough to work for her at Saks. My years working for her were without question, the most formative and most fun of my career and I often think of her and the many, incredible experiences that I was fortunate enough to be a part of. Some 30 years later, I still smile when I hear her words of wisdom and wit in my head - which is more than you'd think! She was a legend and a gift to everyone who...

She was a great lady and an ornament to Charleston. The city will miss her, and here's hoping her papers will be preserved in an appropriate archives to honor her memory and many contributions.

Helen was one of those rare individuals who was brilliant at what she did and was also such a kind a caring individuals. So many of my memories at Saks included observations of Helen. I will always recall her at the end of a runway with her camera.

Grove of 35 Memorial Trees

Helen was an industry icon and personal inspiration. She was smart, funny, bold and always knew what was right. I'm privileged to have known her for nearly 40 years.