Ellen Schaplowsky, My First Mentor Passed Away
I met Ellen when I was 21 years old and still attending Hunter College. The year was 1983 and I would be graduating in 1984. I remember when she hired me to work for her as an intern. I was so impressed that such a young woman was the vice president of Ogilvy & Mather PR. This was an internship that I dreamed of getting. David Ogilvy had always been my hero.
The internship was incredible. I met amazing people at O&MPR including Idy and Meredith, both of them helped guide me through a difficult journey that I didn’t anticipate. I knew I had to work hard and was committed to that, but I didn’t realize how much and how hard I actually had to work. Ellen explained to me that it was important to learn all entry level jobs. “Watch how the mail room operates, see what the secretaries do,” she told me.
I did. I learned everything I could learn in those short six months as an intern. I wanted to show her and show the rest of the team, that I had what it took to be successful at O&MPR.
After my six month internship was just about to come to a close, Ellen’s secretary left for a new position elsewhere and Ellen asked if I would be her assistant. “Yes, you’ll have to do secretarial things,” she told me, “but I’ll also let you pitch, write and develop as an account executive.”
And, she did. She held her promise and I got amazing experience. I worked on Dove Beauty Bar and toured around the country with the spokesperson. It was thrilling at 21 to fly around and set up media tours. I got my first taste of what real “PR” was like and I loved every minute of it!
There was a time when she had me work on a Christmas tree for Glad Wrap & Bags. The group was entering a contest in Connecticut and wanted a tree made out of Glad Wrap & Bag ornaments. I didn’t celebrate Christmas and had never decorated a tree before so this was a first for me. I recruited some of my creative friends to help and we made an outstanding tree that actually took first place in the contest. Ellen was so proud!
When O&MPR merged with Dudley, Anderson and Yutsy PR in 1985, Ellen was offered a position with Hill Holliday Connors Cosmopolus PR. They were primarily a Boston based PR firm and wanted to make their footprint in New York. She accepted the position and asked if I wanted to come along with her. I was thrilled.
I was promoted to account executive by then and handled the Glad Wrap & Bags/American Community Gardening Association account. I also worked on Prestone II Anti-Freeze, running a contest with radio stations around the country and I worked on a few other accounts.
I loved working with Ellen, but I mostly loved talking with her after everyone had gone home. We would talk sometimes for hours (or at least what felt like it). I wanted to know everything and learn as much as I could from her and she was extremely giving of herself and her time mentoring me.
After about a year, I needed to move on. It’s hard working in an agency. It’s long hours and not that much pay for the amount of time you put in. I needed a change and landed a job at Altro Health and Rehabilitation Services, a UJA Federation agency dedicated to helping people with psychiatric disabilities learn job skills.
I stayed in touch with Ellen. I always wanted to have her as a part of my life. We continued to talk from time to time, went out to lunch or to dinner, but it wasn’t the same.
Ruder Finn PR
About five years after that, I applied for a job at Ruder FInn PR and got it. I was hired and worked on the Jell-O account. I worked closely with a woman who I couldn’t stand and coincidentally, Ellen was now working there too.
“I need you in my department,” she told me and I was immediately switched from Jell-O back to Glad Wrap & Bags, except this time, working on the Glad Bag-A-Thon, and their partnership with Keep America Beautiful.
I was always a rockstar at getting publicity and now I was tasked to get local coverage in 15 different markets. I had a blast doing the work. Unfortunately, the person who was Ellen’s “right hand” wasn’t the most supportive person. I was so unhappy working for her and only wanted to work side-by-side with Ellen, as I did in the past. Ellen told me confidentially that the woman was jealous of me and my relationship with Ellen and that was why she was so hard on me. But that didn’t change anything.
I sent out a resume to a blind company. I had no idea what company it was and found out later, through Ellen that I applied to Ruder Finn. Ellen had my resume in her hand. She was horrified and I was so utterly embarrassed that my mentor, my friend, was so upset. I left Ruder Finn shortly thereafter and went to another non-profit organization.
Starting HJMT PR:
After getting my master degree in non-profit management from Baruch College and a couple of months after my daughter was born, I started my firm, HJMT PR in 1992.
As I established myself, I reached out to Ellen to see how she was doing. We met and we hugged and forgot what happened in the past.
She was extremely generous with providing us with leads. She referred Mr. Roach, CEO of a huge Long Island company, to us and he was a client for several years. She also referred a few other clients our way through the years including her most recent endeavor with Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM).
Ellen passed away in May 2017. One of my former employees had heard about it and I couldn’t believe it. But, after confirming with TCM, I learned it was true. She had overcome one illness and couldn’t fight the next one.
I think about her often and still find it hard to believe that I’ll never see her again. Although our relationship was on and off, I thought I would continue to see her for the rest of my life. When a mentor dies, it’s like a little piece of you dies too… I’m grateful to have known her and to have learned from her. She really was a special person.
What a great story, Hilary. You are so fortunate to have someone like Ellen take an interest in your success and be an influence on your career. Not much many of us find someone like her.
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