Friends, former clients and colleagues gathered Thursday afternoon to pay tribute to publicist Jody Donohue.
Donohue, who died on April 20, was best known by many seasoned fashion executives for her alliances with such fashion names 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.
Vera Wang, Josie Natori, Patti Cohen, Rebecca Moses, Ellin Saltzman, Helen O’Hagan, Harold Koda, Jeffrey Banks, Stan Herman and Ed Filipowski turned up at the Frank E. Campbell Funeral Chapel. Also in attendance were former WWD editor in chief Edward Nardoza and former contributing senior executive editor Etta Froio.
Even-keeled when dealing with all sorts of high-strung personalities in the world of fashion in New York, Paris and Milan, Donohue was remembered for being genuine, soft-spoken and truthful by John O’Boyle, Kitty Ockenden and a handful of speakers.
Bob Reeves, associate provost at Southampton Graduate Arts Campus, described Donohue as “a loyal friend, valued counselor and indispensable patron” who helped cultivate the creative arts programs and endowed a poetry award for a MFA student that will continue. Without losing her Midwestern grounded-ness, Donohue transformed herself into the consummate New Yorker. “Her encouragement was always gentle, her advice nuanced, unobtrusive, her demeanor always calm. She listened, she truly listened. And while she listened, she looked at you, tilted her head and really saw you. Actually as she was listening, she was also searching for your center of truth,” Reeves said.
Often phrasing a suggestion in the form of a question, Donohue often asked, “Do you suppose?” Reeves explained. “You had to be pretty smart to even realize that you were being influenced by Jody, that your views were being shaped, that your behavior was being directed.”
During their 20-year friendship, he considered the range of her interests and the depth of her engagement to be extraordinary. “She moved in circles I did not move in. I am told that she was a member of the Southampton Association, the Meadow Club, the Southampton Bathing Club. And there was that talk of her being behind The Southampton Blue Book, sort of a social register that I can only vaguely understand. It is nothing like the blue book I am familiar with, the Kelly Blue Book, which lists the prices of used cars,” Reeves said.
Beth Grossman, who worked for Donohue for a few years in the Eighties, said, “Jody would always say, ‘A good publicist stays behind the scenes.'” Recalling how she introduced herself to the writer Michael Gross a couple of years ago at an event, Grossman said, “I told him how I worked for Jody Donohue and how I always appreciated he was so nice when I called to pitch our clients. He said, ‘I’m not really nice to most people. It’s only because you worked for Jody that I was nice.’”
When Grossman paved a path in publicity specializing in wellness, spirituality and synchronicity, Donohue supported that decision, even attending a few workshops such as one with The Psychic Professor. Donohue also was interested in the late Irish teacher and poet John O’Donohue who wrote and taught about the invisible. “He explained that much more happens in the invisible world than most of realize,” Grossman said.
Another speaker, Joan Pagano, recalled her first conversation with the former publicist in 2004. “Jody called to inquire about a personal training program. I’ll never forget that call because of the surprising thing she said in the middle of it. She said, ‘I think I can help you, too.’ Somehow the conversation got all turned around and became about me and my career mode instead of Jody’s fitness training. It was so typical of Jody. She genuinely was more interested in others than in talking about herself.”
Needless to say, Pagano trained Donohue twice a week for 12 years, ending each session with a casual conversation that started with Donohue asking, ‘So what do you know?’ She just always was present….People who met her even only once remembered her kindness for years. Gracious almost to a fault,” Pagano recalled overhearing Donohue ask herself, “I wonder if I say thank you too much.”
Pagano later read recollections from another friend, Joan Anderson, the author whose retreats on Cape Cod and Iona, Scotland, Donohue attended. After reading Anderson’s first book, Donohue hopped on a flight from New York to Miami, figured out where Anderson was staying for her book tour and slipped a note under her hotel room door that read, “My name is Jody and I’ve been trying to track you down for quite some time. Meet me for a drink.”
Intrepid about traveling to Scotland for a retreat, Donohue was less enthusiastic about caving to the casual dress code — turning up for a hilly walk wearing soft black leather pants and a white cashmere sweater. A stylish choice until she stepped in a pile of manure. But after a little sage burning, she was back to being an original, walking away from the others — “talking to sheep, picking heather or simply lying on the ground searching the heavens,” Anderson wrote. “Jody leaves a legacy not just of her stories but her way of being: An original through and through, she begs all of us to do the same.”