Ed Block made things better.
He did it for his family, for a living and for the island community he loved.
“He was one of the great ones,” veteran newsman and Citizen staffer Ralph Morrow said upon learning of Block’s death Tuesday at his Key West home. He was 89.
Whether seated at the management table of AT&T or advising President Gerald Ford, saving a community theater from financial ruin or establishing the financially “well-endowed” Community Foundation of the Florida Keys, Block was a public relations giant who never lost sight of or touch with the littlest man in an organization.
Block personified public relations — before the industry was reduced to its initials, PR, and regarded warily. He was an inspiring leader, a creative problem solver and a media mastermind.
Born in Houston in 1927, Block attended University of Notre Dame, Dartmouth and St. Edwards University.
He worked as senior vice president of AT&T from 1974 until his retirement in 1986, managing public relations, advertising and employee information. He handled corporate communications for AT&T during its historic divestiture of the Bell telephone companies.
Before that, Block had worked as a newspaper reporter, a radio news producer and a creative director of a major advertising agency. He served as an alderman and deputy mayor in Des Peres, Missouri, advised President Ford as he settled into the Oval Office and won countless communications, media, PR and lifetime achievement awards, all while raising three sons, Mark, Steve and Stuart.
He and his wife of 66 years, Shirley Ross Young Block, bought their home in Key West in 1972 and moved here permanently when Block retired from AT&T. From here, Block worked as a communications consultant and lectured frequently at the University of Texas, Johns Hopkins University, the Sloan School of Business at MIT and Florida International University.
And before any of that, Block served in the U.S. Marine Corps.
In Key West, the quick-witted, slow-talking strategist devised a way to preserve the Tennessee Williams Theater at Florida Keys Community College when the college was looking to close it for financial reasons. He helped established the Community Foundation of the Florida Keys as a way for wealth to be reinvested in the community and served as a passionate and dedicated member of The Citizen’s editorial board for several years.
Citizen Publisher Paul Clarin called Block “a treasure whose wit and wise insightfulness have been lost.
“It’s truly a sad day for his family and all of us who knew and loved him,” Clarin said, echoing the sentiments of most who knew Edward M. Block.
“He was one of my mentors,” said local financial adviser Todd German who, while running for office, sat in Block’s kitchen every Sunday discussing political strategies and anything else that came up.
“Ed was in a unique position in that he had made his name and fortune elsewhere, so his only interest in Key West was in making it better,” German said. “He never had a dog in the fight. He just wanted things to be right and better.”
Block expressed his own philosophy best in 2003, when the Institute for Public Relations at the University of Florida awarded him its prestigious Alexander Hamilton Medal.
In his acceptance speech, Block reminded those who followed him into the PR industry of the integrity and truth upon which it was created.
“Why have so many business enterprises and business leaders substituted reputation bungling for reputation building?” Block asked the black-tie audience in 2003. “What happened to management’s shared values that once upon a time displayed respect for ethics, integrity and decision-making for the long pull? We need to lift our gaze upward from the bottom line, an accounting fiction…”
And no matter what, make things better.
Edward M. Block did just that.
A funeral Mass will take place at noon on Saturday, Aug. 20, at The Basilica of St. Mary Star of the Sea.