Virginia Leigh Vann, 57: Marketing expert epitomized ‘grace, class, kindness and dignity'

Virginia Vann could market, promote or sell anything, be it phones, tickets or art.

For years, she did just that.

Her marketing career began with Southern Airways, followed by a position at American Diner Corp. She held executive posts at AT&T, Citicorp, Northwest Airlines and Cingular Wireless, where she is credited with creating its brand logo.

In 2003, she was hired as director of marketing and development for the Alliance Theatre. Most recently she served as vice president of institutional marketing for the Woodruff Arts Center and as the Alliance's co-interim marketing director.

"She could market, promote and raise brand awareness of pretty much anything," said Kristin Hathaway-Hansen, the Alliance's incoming director of development. "Not only was she usually the smartest person in the room, she was always the kindest."

Virginia Leigh Vann of Atlanta died Tuesday of complications from ovarian cancer at Atlanta Hospice. She was 57. A memorial service will be held at 2 p.m. Sunday at Dunwoody United Methodist Church.

Mrs. Vann was born in Birmingham, but grew up in Dunwoody, where she was the 1971 valedictorian at Peachtree High. The journalism major graduated magna cum laude from the University of Georgia then earned an MBA from the University of Minnesota's Carlson School of Management.

In 2000, Mrs. Vann was appointed chief marketing officer for Cingular, the company's highest ranking female executive at the time. She oversaw a 400-person marketing team that created the company logo known worldwide, said Stephen Carter, a former Cingular CEO.

"Most people still remember the Cingular brand as being a true success story in marketing," he said. "They broke out from the mode of traditional colors and went to orange."

In 2009, the Alliance Theatre, Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, Atlanta Ballet and Center for Puppetry Arts collaborated to offer an inter-organizational series of family-themed performances. The recession was the driving force; Mrs. Vann also credited the openness of Virginia Hepner, then interim director of the Atlanta Ballet, in an article that appeared in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

"It has been an interesting journey of organizations who have thought of each other as competitors for the family dollar moving to the understanding that we all benefit from the exposure and education of marketing together," she said at the time.

Mrs. Vann was more than a marketing genius. Colleagues described her as a compassionate, energetic and caring soul.

Five years ago, Mrs. Hathaway-Hansen was interviewed by Mrs. Vann for a position at the Alliance.

"When I started working for her not too long after that, I realized how unbelievably lucky I was," she said. "She was the epitome of grace, class, kindness and dignity."

Survivors include her husband of  23 years, Ken Large of Atlanta; parents Virginia and Don Vann of Dunwoody; and a sister, Vicki Carayiannis of  Memphis.