lennyfeatured

Al Golin, PR exec who got credit from Ray Kroc for McDonald’s success, dies – Chicago Tribune

The world of public relations can be a loud place, filled with hype, hyperbole and self-absorption. But as a major force and influential presence in that world for more than 60 years Al Golin was an oasis of quiet dignity, compassion and humility.

Espousing such notions as “Putting a human face on companies is our specialty,” Golin built a small Chicago-based company into one of world’s largest public relations firms, one that still bears his name. A lifelong Chicagoan, Golin, 87, died on April 8 in Scottsdale, Ariz. He had for some years been suffering from prostate cancer and died in his sleep.

“We had a wonderful roller coaster of a life,” said his wife of 55 years, June. “He liked to have me involved in his business. I would be there for meetings, and we traveled the world together. We talked a lot about these things during his illness and we actually came to the same conclusion: No regrets. We had a great life because we made such a good team.”

There is an often-told story that tried to capture the basis of Golin’s success and, indeed, his legend. It involves a phone call he made in 1957 to a man named Ray Kroc, who had recently opened a restaurant called McDonald’s in suburban Des Plaines. After some small talk, Kroc invited Golin to his office where the two men talked some more and a deal was made.

An avid tennis player in his youth — he founded the Roosevelt University tennis team in 1948 — Golin played golf as often as he could and swam laps almost daily. He was a lifelong sports fan, especially fond of the Bears and Cubs. In the 1970s he tried to facilitate a deal for Kroc to buy the baseball team, sending a letter to Cubs owner William Wrigley expressing Kroc’s interest.

Wrigley’s response was terse: “Some things in life aren’t for sale and the Chicago Cubs is one of them.”

For the last several years, Golin remained engaged in current events. He was particularly concerned during the production of the recent film about his friend Kroc — “The Founder,” starring Michael Keaton — which was released in theaters in January.

“That was the last movie we ever saw,” said his wife. “We went with our daughter Ellen and, well, Al didn’t like it at all.”

Golin was awarded virtually every significant honor in his field, among them being named one of the 100 Most Influential Public Relations People of the 20th Century by PR Week and inducted into its Hall of Fame in 2014, as well as receiving honorary doctorate degrees from DePaul University and Roosevelt University. He also served for 30 years on the Board of Directors for the Goodman Theatre.

One of his most enduring legacies is likely to be the Al Golin Trust Bank Award that each year since 1992 has been presented to the McDonald’s franchise operator who has had the most significant impact on his or her community.

It is always difficult to find an anecdote that will provide the measure of a person. But last year, at a celebration of his firm’s 60th anniversary, Golin said: “Someone once asked me, ‘Was the call to Ray Kroc the most important call you ever made in your life?’ And I said, ‘No it was really the second most important call. The first one was asking my wife, June, out for our first date.'”

In addition to his wife, Golin is survived by son Barry; daughters Karen Golin and Ellen Resnick; six grandchildren; and one great grandson.

A memorial service is being planned.

rkogan@chicagotribune.com

Leave a Comment