Tom Garrity

Vista Award Speech

In Life on May 4, 2011 at 4:04 am

On May 3, 2011 I was honored to be presented the Vista Lifetime Achievement Award by the New Mexico Public Relations Society of America.  This was my acceptance speech:

One year during Balloon Fiesta, I think it was 1998, I wanted to have a way to show the color of the Fiesta to the national and international media after the balloons had landed.  We had developed this elaborate backdrop from an old balloon envelope, draped it from the top of the tent to the back of the stage.  Since there was so much extra fabric, we covered parts of the stage for effect. 

It was the first year we had regular press briefings at the event; we’d talk about the number of balloons launched, have guest speakers, things of that nature.  Well the person I had just introduced to the microphone was bigger than me and I remember the person was taking a more middle of the road approach to the podium instead of yielding so I could sneak by.  I decided to make a wider than usual exit.  But, because the balloon envelope was draped across the back of the stage it was impossible to figure out where the stage ended and air began.

I took one step, then two, making contact with the stage.  The third step was nothing but air.  The next thing I remember was being cocooned in a balloon envelope, in this nook between the stage and the back of the tent and hearing a collective “gasp” from the 30-40 media in attendance.  All of that to say, I tend to avoid stages, elaborate backdrops and memorable exits.

Thank you to the New Mexico Public Relations Society of America for the Vista Award.  While my interactions with Lee and Marie Hirst were limited, I am truly humbled to be included in a recognition that includes New Mexico’s first family of public relations and so many other practitioners whom I’ve called upon in the past.  I respect them more than they will ever know.

One thing Lee loved to do was run.  It is a passion which I’ve successfully avoided for 46 years. Completing two marathons and two half marathons over an eight month period, recently provided some insight as to why Lee loved it.  It helps to clear the mind and prioritize.  It also helps to provide a great metaphor for what we do, collectively, for our clients.  We help them to run in such a way as to win, to finish the race.  There are many different ways and speeds which you can run.  Like running, campaigns run their course, events end and a marathon is always 26.2 miles.  We do what we do because it is our passion.

How do we define what it is we do?  There use to be an ad for Porter Novelli that read “not even my mother understands what I do.”  Well it must not have been my mother, because she understands and does quite well with her own “PR.” How do we describe it to someone who doesn’t know?  I’ve often use the phrase “its one beggar showing another beggar where to get food.”

Or in the words of fictional character Leo McCarry, who was chief of staff in the long running show The West Wing, describes: This guy’s walkin’ down a street when he falls in a hole. The walls are so steep he can’t get out. A doctor passes by and the guy shouts up, “Hey you! Can you help me out?” The doctor writes a prescription, throws it down in the hole, and moves on. Then a priest comes along and the guy shouts up, “Father, I’m down in this hole; can you help me out?” The priest writes out a prayer, throws it down in the hole and moves on. Then a friend walks by. “Hey, Joe, it’s me. Can ya help me out?” And the friend jumps in the hole. Our guy says, “Are ya stupid? Now we’re both down here.” The friend says, “Yeah, but I’ve been down here before and I know the way out.”

For me, it is a great privilege to help people when they are in that hole, in the midst of a crisis.  The families of Ana Marie Regino Martinez, Matt Propp, Joe Vigil, Dr. Daniel Ronel; organizations that include the Balloon Fiesta, Furrs Supermarket, Calvary Chapel, First Community Bank and the Kirtland Partnership Committee through two BRAC hearings; as well as a host of other people and organizations I can’t mention that allowed me to provide insight when they were in the midst of their waterloo.

The biggest threats to our industry are best fought with transparency, ethics and integrity.  The enemy is found in complacency and relevancy.

Sometimes relevancy just looks at us straight in the face.  Such was the case as a cub reporter in Billings, Montana.  My assignment, cover a revival being led by the Reverend Billy Graham.  I went and covered the event and came back to edit my story.  When finalizing the sound bite to use, I called in the evening anchor, a salty newsie who was also a member of the John Birch Society.  I played for him the sound bite of John 3:16 “That God so Loved the World that he sent his only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life.”  The anchor took a drag from his cigarette and asked, “that’s it?!”  I said, yeah.  That is a message as relevant today as it was more than two thousand years ago.
As long as we are relevant, we are part of the discussion and have a seat at the table.

Thank you to the current members of The Garrity Group Public Relations for enjoying Jimmy Buffet songs and making our office a fun place to work.  I covet your perspective and professionalism.  Also, thank you to our Garrity Group alumni, your continued contributions to the profession provide motivation as I continue to celebrate your successes.

Finally tonight, it is a gift to have my wife Jackie and our two daughters Emily and Casey here… thank you for not changing the locks on the front door!

My mom is here and my dad, while in Houston is here in spirit.  I am also blessed to have extended family and friends in the audience tonight. 

Thank you for this honor and good night.

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  1. Congratulations friend! And honor indeed and so deserved.

  2. Congratulations Tom on this honor. I’m sorry I wasn’t there to hear these beautiful remarks, and congratulate you, in person. This achievement was well-deserved and I’m proud to be a TGG alum.

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