Services are being planned for longtime New York publicist Jody Donohue, who died Thursday at her New York City apartment.
Perhaps as evidence of her adeptness at writing a script, when asked about Donohue’s exact age, her longtime friend and former WWD contributing senior executive fashion editor Etta Froio said with a laugh, “Jody would not want that in her obituary.”
Born and raised in Appleton, Wisc., Donohue stayed in her home state for college, attending the University of Wisconsin. In the many years that followed, she never lost her Midwestern genuineness, always generous with a word of encouragement or guidance. While making her way professionally, she worked for two New York City public relations firms before signing up with Edward Gottlieb & Associates as vice president. At one time, she served as director of women’s wear publicity for the Wool Bureau. Prior to that, she worked at Tobe Associates during the years when Miss Tobe (Coller Davis) reigned as the leading p.r. consultant.
But Donohue was best known by many seasoned fashion executives for her alliances with such designers and houses as Jacqueline de Ribes, Ferragamo, Givenchy, Krizia, Céline, Yohji Yamamoto and Bob Mackie. As recently as last year, she was helping de Ribes in the lead-up to the Parisian fashion icon’s exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Costume Institute.
Reached in Paris on Friday, de Ribes said, “I am heartbroken. Jody Donohue — I used to call her ‘my American mama,’ I loved Jody so much, and when she used to call me on the phone from the States, she always used to say: ‘It’s your American mama.’
“She has been the most intelligent and precious adviser for more than 30 years,” continued de Ribes. “She was totally a part of my life, and it was a joy working with such an affectionate and subtle person. I will miss her tremendously. She was very, very extraordinary. She was a brilliant, brilliant mind and extremely subtle — in the way she used to approach people, and approach the problems. There was such a finesse in everything.”
Having met Donohue in the Eighties at the couture shows in Paris, Josie Natori said Friday, “She was kind of iconic in this business. She represents another era in the world of p.r. I hate to even use that word. She was more than that. Jody just never stopped. She carried on [working] with Jacqueline even when she wanted to retire, she couldn’t. She was amazing. I don’t know anybody who doesn’t like her.”
Although Natori and Donohue never worked together, their lives intertwined in other ways, becoming friends in the past 15 years sharing lunches, dinners and even the same personal trainer since 1991. Natori said, “She was always giving her counsel to me.…She was such a good, genuine person — very astute, smart and just so true, so thoughtful and always curious.”
Donohue literally wrote the book about public relations, or at least one of them, publishing “Your Career in Public Relations” in 1967. Once she had her footing in the world of p.r. and marketing, she opened Jody Donohue Associates. In 1997, she sold her company to Joan Deignan and Linda Mann, and the company became known as Deignan/Mann Inc., specializing in such fashion accounts as Bob Mackie, Speedo Authentic Fitness and Spiegel.
Donohue remained involved with the agency for a period of time afterward. “She continued with her company because she didn’t want the full responsibility at that time, so she shared it with some of her workers,” Froio said.
Mann said Friday, “This really marks the end of an era when fashion p.r. was FUN.”
A couple of Donohue’s favorite behind-the-scenes tales involved her client Ava Gabor. Once while visiting Gabor in her Beverly Hills home, Donohue opened a window only to suddenly have an alarm blare and the actress “freaked out,” Froio recalled. On another occasion when the hospitality was reversed and Gabor was at Donohue’s Southhampton home, the actress arrived, “just put on her swimsuit and went out the backdoor and went swimming in the bay,” Froio added.
Starting in the Seventies, the Hamptons became a favorite haunt for Donohue, who liked nothing better than taking her sailboat out on the bay, walking on the beach or simply reading. She also was civic-minded with her many donations, supporting Planned Parenthood, the Parrish Art Museum, the Peconic Land Trust and Nature Conservancies.
Fueled by the people she worked with and the challenge of the job, Donohue kept a can-do attitude and was big on instilling confidence in her staff. Skillful at parroting columnists’ personal styles, Donohue taught her staffers to write in the same vein as Page Six, Liz Smith, Suzy or whomever they were pitching, said former employee Diana Biederman.
“Jody really had a knack for pulling teams together. That’s what made that place a joy to work at — the work was hard, but the work was fun,” Biederman said. “She was all about having a balanced life, getting out of the office at a decent time. She didn’t want you staying past too long. She wanted you to go out, have fun and do things.
“Jody was sophisticated in her dress but she had that Midwestern friendliness. She was very welcoming all the time. And when she was critical, it didn’t hurt because she explained where it was coming from,” Biederman said. “She was just always so upbeat. She always had stories that I never would have expected.”
As for how Donohue might have liked to be remembered, her longtime assistant Nancy Ingersoll said, “As a hard worker, honest and fair.”
Service details were still being determined at presstime. Predeceased by her parents and a brother and sister, Donohue is survived by a cousin John O’Boyle and his wife and children.