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Obituary of Patricia L. Mansfield: Trailblazing ad executive, painter, author

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, July 8, 2010 - When Patricia Mansfield became established as an advertising executive in the 1950s, the profession was a male bastion, so much so that the professional organizations here were segregated.

"I couldn't join the men's ad club because they wouldn't take me," Ms. Mansfield recalled during a 2007 interview with the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. But she was proud to join the women's club.

"I didn't go out and say 'Aha, here was a club I could join because it had to do with women.' (I said) here was a club I could join because it had to do with advertising ... and we'll do swell things!"

By 1973, things had changed in the industry thanks to Ms. Mansfield's efforts as a trailblazer. Ms. Mansfield was one of the first female account executives named vice president of a St. Louis advertising agency, Batz-Hodgson-Neuwoehner. She helped that firm win many creative prizes, then enjoyed success as a real estate agent, painter and a writer.

Ms. Mansfield, who lived in Kirkwood, died at Des Peres Hospital on Friday (July 2) following a brief illness. Her age was a carefully guarded secret.

"Pat didn't want her age known," laughed Helen Ballard. "We were lifelong friends; and I tell my age (87), but she would shudder because some people could guess her age by mine.

"The day we took her to the hospital, she wouldn't even tell the paramedics until they insisted. Then she whispered it."

A memorial service will be held at 2 p.m. on Friday (July 9), preceded by visitation at 1 p.m.

Making It in a Man's World

"She was true career woman," Ballard said. "Being a woman vice president wasn't heard of in that age; women had jobs like mine, which was a secretary. But she went right up to the top of the ad agency when it was really hard."

Carole Christie, who worked at D'Arcy Advertising "a generation behind" Ms. Mansfield, was aware of her reputation in the field. She wrote the Post-Dispatch story that included Mansfield among other pioneering women ad executives.

"She was a leader among women in advertising and a very big deal in the Ad Club," Christie said. She was an incredibly insightful woman and represented a glorious era for women in business and the communications field."

Ms. Mansfield began her advertising career after World War II, having served in the Navy from 1944 to 1946, as a WAVE Lieutenant J.G.

She told the Post-Dispatch that she had to first pay her gender dues.

"Believe me, for a long time in advertising, I was the person who served the brownies and typed up the memos of the meeting. These are things that women just did. So I just did them."

With the opportunity to go beyond the traditional and the mundane, her work helped Batz-Hodgson-Neuwoehner garner numerous creative awards for radio and television commercials and print ads.

Among her top agency clients was Prince Gardner leather goods. She worked with Leah Gardner, another vanguard female executive. Ms. Mansfield admired Gardner so much that she wrote her biography, "Gardner."

During her ad agency career, she served as president of the St. Louis Chapter of the American Women in Radio and Television and was a member of the Advertising Club of Greater St. Louis (the merged men's and women's ad clubs), The National Academy of Arts and Sciences and the Press Club of Metropolitan St. Louis.

Ms. Mansfield was honored as St. Louis Advertising Woman of the Year and the American Advertising Federation Woman of the Year.

After the Ad Age

Patricia Louise Mansfield was born in St. Joseph, Mo., the only child of Vera and Earl Mansfield. The family moved to St. Louis, where Ms. Mansfield graduated from Roosevelt High School. She went on to major in psychology and sociology at Washington University, earning a bachelor of arts. She was a member of Kappa Kappa Gamma, an organization so old that it is known as a women's fraternity; the word sorority was not coined until after its founding in 1870.

After retiring from advertising, Ms. Mansfield became a real estate agent, which afforded her time to pursue her love of painting and to become an accomplished Expressionist artist.

But she was first and foremost a writer. And a chance contest proved her skills.

Her short story, "Every Family Has One, Molly Is Mine," a fantasy tale of her beloved one-eyed Maine Coon Cat, won a literary contest and was published in the anthology, "Amazing Cat Tales," in 2006. Molly was one of 58 stories chosen by Linden Hill Publishing from more than 2,000 submissions worldwide for the anthology.

"I was surprised that it wasn't written by a young person because it was so vivacious, so clever," said Jeanne du Nord, an author with Linden Hill who helped coordinate the contest.

At the time of her death, Ms. Mansfield was working with the publisher to develop Molly into a full-length book. It was almost complete. du Nord will finish the tale of the one-eyed kitten, the runt of the litter, who grew up to be a self-assured character that took everything in stride, much like its owner, Ms. Mansfield.

"I believe I can finish the Molly story in her style," du Nord said. "It's somewhere between Auntie Mame and Eloise. On the trip here (to St. Louis), Pat's spirit helped me visualize the ending."

A Custom-built Family

Perhaps one of the most remarkable aspects of Ms. Mansfield's life was that she built her own family. An only child and a childless woman, she cobbled together an extended family that began with Helen Ballard, whom Ms. Mansfield called "Pud." That family now spreads across the country.

"Her extraordinary insight and wisdom made Pat a friend to many and she assembled a strong family from these friends," du Nord said.

As "Amazing Cat Tales" came together, Ms. Mansfield expanded the relationship with du Nord and her husband, editor David Buser, of Princess Anne, Md.

"It became more of a mother-daughter relationship," du Nord said. "And David, boasted that Pat was 'the best mother-in-law in the world'."

While working in real estate, du Nord said, Pat befriended Dennis Dowell, and he came to be regarded as a beloved nephew. She also adopted "cousins" all along the way.

"She cared about so many things, but people in particular," Ballard said, "and animals, cats in particular."

Visitation for Ms. Mansfield will be at 1 p.m. Friday at Bopp Chapel, 10610 Manchester Road, Kirkwood, followed by a memorial service at 2 p.m. at the same location.

In lieu of flowers, gifts may be made in Ms. Mansfield's honor to a charity of the donor's choice.

Gloria Ross is the head of Okara Communications and the storywriter for AfterWords, an obituary-writing and production service.

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