Professor Peter Morrissey summarized public relations into three questions: “Is what I’m about to say necessary?”; “Is what I’m about to say true?”; and “Is what I’m about to say kind?” Morrissey tragically passed away on Aug. 3, but the ethical model he introduced to a field stereotyped by “spin doctors” and “flacks” endures.
Peter Morrissey became a full-time associate professor at Boston University’s College of Communication in 2006, having already established himself as a corporate reputation and crisis communication professional. Morrissey’s expertise shined during work at his own company, Morrissey & Co. He gained recognition as a top “crunch time counselor” by PRWeek after his distinguished handling of the Tylenol capsule poisoning crisis, which exemplified complete transparency and produced swift preventive measures against tampering. Associate Professor Stephen Quigley described him as an “absolutely, consummate professional,” no surprise given his sterling reputation and experience with Fortune 500 companies.
“It was evident that he had dedicated his entire career to build a successful agency, filled with honorable people who he knew could help positively influence the field of PR, just as he did,” said student Emily Wienberg, (COM ’12). “In the office and the classroom, Professor Morrissey instilled many important values to both those young and seasoned in their careers, and those values will help me as I grow professionally and personally.”
Morrissey’s character is aptly demonstrated by his approach to teaching, which true to his Brighton, MA, roots, he likened to Fenway Park. Even in its progressing age, Fenway Park crafts an extraordinary experience for every guest, an experience that keeps flourishing through the devotion of the park’s owners.
Morrissey believed that all professors should mimic the spirit of Fenway Park owners by aiming to create an unforgettable experience for every student, no matter the condition of the classroom. This story speaks to the expectation of excellence that Morrissey upheld in all aspects of his life, and impressed upon others.
Even as a leading authority in public relations, Morrissey remained humble, balancing superior business savvy with approachability and softness of spirit. He casually alluded to famous writing like Sun Tzu’s The Art of War and was known for his hand-written notes.
“He was ready to offer sincere, unsolicited compliments yet also had the innate ability to disagree without being disagreeable,” said Dr. Edward Downes, an associate professor at COM.
Morrissey’s reputation for kindness, or “quiet brilliance,” is also recalled by Alissa Stewart, one of his former graduate assistants.
After Stewart explained to Morrissey an unfortunate encounter with a professor, he slyly smiled and handed her the book The Worst Case Scenario Survival Handbook, with the section “How to Fend off Shark” bookmarked. Stewart said that “in a very graceful and classy way that I have never seen anybody else possess like he did, he was able to show me that you can find humor in anything and that, at the end of the day, all ‘crises’ are really not the end of the world.”
Building off his humor, Quigley notes that while Morrissey’s persona was low-key, he was quick to tell the “off beat comments that you’d expect from somebody who drove a Zamboni,” alluding to Morrissey’s hockey background. He was an avid explorer and challenge-seeker. After graduating high school, he voyaged to California where he climbed a 17,000 foot mountain, and up until the last years of his life, he frequently went on long motorcycle journeys with his friends.
Peter Morrissey was many things: intuitive, charismatic, masterminded, generous. But above all, he is everlasting. His legacy sparks in the eyes of his colleagues and shines through the words of his students, where we can find comfort that it will be perpetuated and continue to influence generations to come.