Joseph Ledlie, 72: Talent with words, people built reputation, career

Joseph Ledlie was a man of few words, but when the award-winning journalist and public relations executive did speak, friends and colleagues hung on to every carefully chosen word.

Nationally known as a gifted wordsmith and communicator, Ledlie also was respected for his commitment to mentoring young PR professionals.

“Joe was a man of very strong faith,” said Denny Betz, retired vice president of corporate communications for BellSouth. “Faith and family was why he was so interested and willing to take time with young people. A lot of companies benefited from him developing young people.”

Ledlie of Atlanta died Dec. 25 of an anoxic brain injury at the age of 72. His funeral Mass will be at 10 a.m. Friday at the Cathedral of Christ the King in Atlanta.

Read and sign the online guestbook for Joe Ledlie

Born in Savannah on Dec. 2, 1943, Ledlie was the oldest of four children. His father, Samuel Ford Ledlie, was a partner in a seafood business for 40 years. His mother, Gertrude Dulohery Ledlie, was director of nursing services at St. Joseph’s Hospital.

As a child, he loved telling stories as much as reading and hearing them. He also loved newspapers, and used his allowance to buy out-of-town papers. By age 16, in high school he was writing a weekly column for the Free State at the Benedictine Military School.

At Spring Hill College he was editor of the student newspaper, the Springhillian, which became the smallest college publication to win the Columbia Scholastic Press Association’s top collegiate award for general excellence.

Ledlie was an instructor while completing his master’s degree at Louisiana State University and taught English at Spring Hill.

His journalism career began at his hometown newspaper. He was city editor at the Savannah Morning News, an editor at The Atlanta Journal and a correspondent for the Washington Post, the Detroit News, the Daily Mail in London and Reuters.

He received awards from The Associated Press and the Society of Professional Journalists. His script for “The Sea,” a program on Georgia Instructional Television, won an Emmy from the Atlanta Academy of Television and Sciences.

In the early 1980s, Ledlie left journalism to become the public relations director of the Life Insurance Company of Georgia. He joined the Atlanta office of Manning, Selvage & Lee in 1991 as managing director. He started his own PR firm, The Ledlie Group, in 1998.

Before his death, Ledlie was treasurer of the Public Relations Global Network, a consortium of nearly 50 agencies on six continents.

He was “one of the great storytellers of his generation, a talent that enabled him to straddle the worlds of PR and journalism with ease,” said former PRGN president Frank Cullen, founder of Cullen Communications in Dublin, Ireland.

His quick wit and way with words inspired staff members, whom he treated like family, said Philip Hauserman, vice president of operations for the Ledlie Group. “You just didn’t read his words, you felt them. It was not just corporate-speak,” Hauserman said. “He never pulled anything off the shelf. It was customized for each client. I think he’s somebody whose influence will be felt for years to come.”

Along the way, Ledlie remained a humble family man who was active in church and charitable work.

“He was incredibly proud of his children,” said his daughter Caroline Seton Ledlie of Atlanta. “He afforded us every opportunity to grow up to become honorable people who care about others and use our intellect to further our careers and our lives. He was knowledgeable, and it was natural and genuine. He really was a Renaissance man.”

Whether sending well wishes to a friend or collaborating on a communications strategy, the care Ledlie took in his writing always left an impression, colleagues said.

“Everything he wrote – even the briefest email – was worth reading and savoring,” said Sandy Lish, principal and co-founder of the Castle Group, a PR firm in Boston. “I will forever miss his smile, laugh, wit, robust presence and our shared outlook on so many business matters. What a giant of a man.”

In addition to his daughter Caroline, Ledlie is survived by his wife Kathryn Rochefort Ledlie and daughters Jane Ledlie Batcheller and Kathryn Ford Ledlie of Atlanta; son Christopher Jeremy Ledlie of Florida; brothers Eugene Ford Ledlie of Richmond, Va., and Leonard Gerard “Roddy” Ledlie and sister Margaret Mary Ledlie, both of Bloomingdale, Ga.; and one grandson.

Read and sign the online guestbook for Joe Ledlie

Support real journalism. Support local journalism. Subscribe to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution today. See offers.

Your subscription to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution funds in-depth reporting and investigations that keep you informed. Thank you for supporting real journalism.