Left to right: Dick Sessoms, APR, President of ODC/PRSA; Sally Sessoms; Mrs. Virginius Dabney; Virginius Dabney (retired Richmond Times-Dispatch editor), 1972 recipient of the Thomas Jefferson Award for Excellence in Public Service; Mrs. Edgar Shannon; University of Virginia President Dr. Edgar F. Shannon, Jr.

PRSA-Richmond was formed when the Richmond Public Relations Association (RPRA) merged with the Old Dominion Chapter of PRS.

History Of the Richmond Public Relations Association (RPRA)

The Richmond Public Relations Association traces its roots to a lunch meeting in 1946 in which Herbert E. Bickel invited four other people who, like himself, were debating what the new job title “public relations” meant. Joining Bickel that day were Thomas Pinckney, A.H. Hermann, R.S. Stephenson and Julian Houseman.

The luncheon was followed by an organizational meeting on May 29, 1946 at the Hotel Rueger. Fourteen persons attended and decided to hold monthly meetings and to establish membership criteria. In the early years, monthly meetings – called “clinics” – were forums for members to share ideas and experiences and also a source of public relations support to the community. The mayor of the city of Richmond and the staff of the Richmond Chamber of Commerce were among the first to take advantage of RPRA’s community-spirited offer to help.

At the monthly clinics, specific problems were discussed and public relations solutions suggested. The referendum on the city’s character, the expressway, downtown parking, evening hours for department stores, traffic, smoke abatement and the public’s attitude toward public transportation all came under the scrutiny of the fledgling organization.

Another significant accomplishment during the first year of RPRA’s life was the establishment of the area’s first course in public relations at the University of Richmond (UR). A guest speaker, Uriel Davis, came from New York City to speak at the September 1946 monthly meeting. His definition of public relations was “establishing a good relationship between a company and all outside contacts which make for better business.”

The discussion that ensued at the meeting underlined the importance of formal education in public relations and, on February 3, 1947, an RPRA member began teaching just such a course at UR with the support of RPRA.

In the third year of its history, RPRA adopted a constitution, established the Virginia Public Relations Conference with the co-sponsorship of the Virginia State Chamber of Commerce and issued its first newsletter to members. Other significant accomplishments in these early years included establishment of the annual Public Relations Award in 1952, development of a public relations plan for the City of Richmond in 1955, support of a daytime public relations course at RPI (now VCU) and celebration of the charter of the Old Dominion Chapter of PRSA at the annual conference in 1961.

In recent years, RPRA has established the David P. Hurdle Memorial Scholarship by making a substantial contribution to the scholarship funds of the University of Richmond and VCU in alternating years. The association has also funded student internships, enabling a future generation of public relations practitioners to gain valuable work experience.
History Of The Old Dominion Chapter PRSA (ODC)

The Old Dominion Chapter of the Public Relations Society of America was organized during the winter of 1960-61 by 17 members of the national society who were then residing and working in Virginia. The group received its charter on March 16, 1961, in Williamsburg. Soon after its founding, the chapter became one of the three organizations which sponsored jointly, for many years, the Virginia Public Relations Conference — a program originated by the Richmond Public Relations Association.

In 1973, ODC also became a co-sponsor of the statewide Public Relations Awards presented during the spring conference. In line with one of its basic objectives, to foster and encourage understanding of the practice of public relations in Virginia, the chapter established during its first year the Thomas Jefferson Award for Public Service, for presentation as appropriate to an individual (or individuals) who, “beyond the call of duty, effectively improved the life of the community or the Commonwealth of Virginia.” The first Thomas Jefferson Award for Public Service was presented in September 1962, at a formal banquet in Richmond, and was bestowed each year from 1962-1995.

The chapter also made provision for a companion Thomas Jefferson Award for Public Relations to be presented when considered appropriate to a member or former member of the Public Relations Society of America who had made similar contributions to the Commonwealth. The first such award was presented by the chapter in December 1975 to Richard A. Velz, APR.

1964: On the left, former Virginia Governor Colgate W. Darden Jr. is presented with the Thomas Jefferson Award for Excellence in Public Service by ODC/PRSA president Donald J. Gonzales, APR. Don was one of the earliest recipients of the Thomas Jefferson Award for Excellence in Public Relations in 1980.

Following institution of PRSA’s national Accreditation program, three founding members of ODC became Virginia’s first Accredited in Public Relations practitioners when they received certificates from the incoming national president at the chapter’s winter meeting in December, 1965. One of the three, Donald B. McCammond, subsequently became PRSA’s national president in 1970.

Joseph F. Awad, Fellow, APR, recipient of the Thomas Jefferson Award for Public Relations in 1982, served as PRSA national president in 1983.

In a further expansion of efforts to improve the practice of public relations within the state, the chapter has sponsored and organized in Virginia three chapters of the national Society’s student organization. The first chapter of the Public Relations Student Society of America (PRSSA) was chartered in 1972 at Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) in Richmond. The second chapter was chartered in 1978 at Norfolk State University in Norfolk. Later, responsibility for liaison with the Norfolk State PRSSA chapter was transferred to the new Hampton Roads chapter of PRSA. In 1985, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University became the third campus for a Virginia PRSSA chapter.