Thursday, July 12, 2012


Kay Partney Lautman died of Alzheimer's disease  on July 9th at age74.

When I came to the Oram firm in 1964 all new girls were dunked in the steno pool. Harold Oram fished  in that pond. He had a keen eye for intellectual ability, spunk,  humor, feminine grace and the ability to relate to our often wacky and always demanding clients. The best of the best were reeled in and promoted. Kay was one of those; she rose from the pool and began to work as a very junior direct mail person. Kay was Miss New York Career Girl then - pillbox hat, gloves, tight skirts, Texas drawl and she  loved being the center of attention. Harold Oram was way ahead of his time giving brilliant women and  minorities (and  minority women) a chance to show excellence. Kay was an extraordinary talent.

One of our clients was World Wildlife Fund and Kay worked with Harold  on the account. In addition to all kinds of royalty she met one of the great advertising spinmeisters of all time, David Ogilvy. David really  liked Kay, I guess he saw the same gifts in her that Harold did. His regard for her is why he agreed to do the foreword to the book she and I wrote on direct mail. That direct mail campaign was of  pivotal importance to nonprofit fund raising because no environmental  organization up to that time had ever attempted to reach a mass market in the mail. Now of course they're all in it. Harold convinced them to try it, Kay did the work, Ogilvy encouraged us and  it was eminently successful. (Go Panda!). Kay had many other great pioneering successes in direct marketing. But that was the first.

Then the firm was "Mad Men" on steroids - full of goofy, quirky and wonderfully gifted people.Clients loved coming to the office, to drink Harold's Scotch, smoke his ropey cigars and, of course, go fishing. Kay easily fended off rambunctious CEOs and raunchy development types with a smile and a pithy word or two but this wasn't necessarily true of everyone and there were some memorably delicious moments. For the most part, though, the exotic stuff was among the spirited staff and led to one of Kay's great Dorothy Parker-like one-liners. Tartly observing a threesome (none of us could visualize all those arms and legs) she opined "well, better to be AC-DC than  not  plugged in at all."

In the fullness of time Kay was invited to be a guest  on "The David Susskind Show," one of TV's early talk drills. He decided to do one on career girls and Kay is sitting there with a manner so syrupy you could  pour it over pancakes. They covered this and that and finally Susskind brings up affairs with married men. Three of the ladies pitch snits and then Kay sweetly sticks  in the stiletto: "well I don't know, you have all your holidays and weekends free."

Kay was seconded to Washington and opened the Oram office there in a rabbit hutch on N Street near the Tabard Inn. She met Bob Lautman an architectural  photographer, a guy totally out of Kay's world. The Miss Career Girl persona was dropped, the pillbox hats and  little white gloves went, Kay matured, became a savvy businesswoman and their narrow town house on Wisconsin and 41st was a wonderful place. The best word I can think of to describe Bob is "fey." He was slightly built, had an elfin, gentle personality and he was a prodigiously great chef. I still have a memory of Bob poaching a fish nearly as tall as he was. Another time, I flew down there on the Eastern shuttle with a fish he had asked me to courier. 

Kay had a great sense of humor always. And she had a really zany side. She had a friend named Donal McLaughlin ... and this is the story as reported  on a page evoking Donal's memory:

"In 1977, an East African giraffe named Victor - distinguished by age, experience and virility --- lost his footing and spread-eagled himself while attempting to be of service to Arabesque, one of the three female giraffe friends at the Marwell Park Zoo, 70 miles south of London. The plight of the fallen lover attracted the sympathy and understanding of kindred souls throughout the world. They agonized with him as various desperate efforts were made to get him up again. Finally, on the sixth day, he made it ---inspired by the nudging nose of Arabesque and assisted by a crane operated by Her Majesty's Navy. Sad to relate , Victor did not survive this sling of outrageous fortune. But he never gave up, and he died trying. That is his legacy and our inspiration."

That legacy and inspiration led to Donal, Kay and a few other folks to start the Society of Victor Invictus, whose motto and crest "upward ever upward" drew  in 150 other people. Once a year we would have a great party and whatever we raised went to giraffe care somewhere. I think. I hope. Because there was never a membership list, never an organization. It just was.  A lapel pin was designed and  one day on a plane the guy next to me had the pin on his jacket. Wow! 

In 1992 Kay left Oram and struck out on her own. Our parting was not without tension but over time we navigated those shoals and remained friendly. 

I've never figured out how to end an obit. The gone are still gone. So Kay, upward ever upward!

1 comment:

Biker Blog said...

She was such an inspiration to me, as a career woman and a boss...ever fair, creative, fashionable and irreverent.

I was supposed to be the office manager at Oram in DC, a public relations and fund raising firm with offices in NY and DC. While training for the job for a month (and working on other projects), Kay came into the conference room one day and said: 'Well, I have bad news for me and good news for you: we got a contract from the National Endowment of the Arts. You are not going to be the office manager; you are going to be my assistant on this project.' The project was a life changing experience for me - really one of my favorite jobs ever, and a magical time. It took me forever out of the potential 'admin assistant' pool...thanks to Kay (and Hank). Kay taught me how to be a business woman.

I had not seen Kay for many years, but will miss her and always be grateful to her.