Norman Wolfe, 87: Former public relations executive

Norman Wolfe (seated) with Bob Cohn, founders of PR firm Cohn & Wolfe.

Credit: Special

Credit: Special

Norman Wolfe (seated) with Bob Cohn, founders of PR firm Cohn & Wolfe.

Norman Wolfe started out professionally as a journalist at the Daytona Beach News Journal in 1953, but it was public relations that would one day take his name around the world.

A native of Toledo, Ohio, Wolfe, a true newspaperman, climbed the ladder of the fourth estate quickly, his son Robert Wolfe said. He became bureau chief at the News Journal and later held the same position at the Orlando Sentinel.

He was witness in the mid-1960s to the mysterious acquisition of acres of real estate in Orlando that would eventually became Walt Disney World, Robert Wolfe said. By the time theme park opened, Norman Wolfe had been promoted to executive editor at the Sentinel.

But in the 1970s, Wolfe moved to Atlanta and made a career change. He partnered with another former journalist, Bob Cohn, to launch a new public relations firm, Cohn & Wolfe.

More than four decades later, the company is one of the global powerhouses in public relations.

“He was the ying to my yang,” Cohn said. “I had been a newspaperman who had no inkling how to run a business. He had that knowledge and it made our team work.”

Rob Baskin, a former general manager of the company, agreed.

“They were a wonderful balance to each other,” he said of Wolfe and Cohn. “Norman was an active listener who asked great questions. Bob was just a great ideas guy.”

Wolfe, who retired in 1991 , died Wednesday at Emory Hospital Johns Creek after a lengthy illness.

A wake for Wolfe, 87, will be held at 7 p.m. at Ansley Golf Club on June 11. He will be interred at Fort Meigs Cemetery in Perrysburg, Ohio. Ingram Funeral Home in Cumming is handling the arrangements.

Friends and colleagues said Wolfe found passion in public affairs and directed the crisis communications efforts for the fledgling Cohn & Wolfe. A natty dresser, he was also known for his sense of humor.

“He would say, there are three stages of life: ‘Youth, middle age and you look great,’ ” Cohn said.

Mitch Leff, who launched his PR career at the company, said, “Norman Wolfe to me was the epitome of a professional, combined with a unique dry wit. At one point I was working at Cohn & Wolfe on a client that made some sort of feed supplement for turkeys. My cubicle was a mess of poultry industry magazines. Norman walked by one day, looked around and just asked, “Is this billable?” I said, “Yes, sir!” He said simply, “Good!” and kept on walking.”

In Atlanta, Wolfe worked behind the scenes on some of the metro area’s biggest public projects, including the creation of a fourth runway at Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport, the widening of Atlanta’s major interstates and efforts to win support for the construction of Ga. 400, colleagues said.

Cohn & Wolfe was bought in 1984 by New York-based Burson-Marsteller, a Young & Rubicam company. By that time Cohn & Wolfe had offices in New York, Chicago, San Francisco, London, Toronto and Milan, Italy.

“When Burson bought them and decided to keep the brand, that was the biggest compliment,” Robert Wolfe said.

Donna Imperato, Cohn & Wolfe’s current chief executive officer, said, “ Norm was a true visionary, baking branding and creativity into the DNA of the agency from the very start. He and Bob created a powerful consumer marketing agency that grew from Atlanta to New York and then went on to become a global leader.”

Wolfe is survived by his son Robert Wolfe, daughter-in-law Diane Wolfe and granddaughter Ansley Wolfe, all of Orange County, Calif.; daughter Lisa Wolfe of Harbor Oaks, Fla.; sister Phyllis Wolfe Schueren and brother-in-law Jan Schueren of Clemson, S.C.