By Published on .

People will remember Milton Mumford, the former chairman of Lever Bros. who died last week at the age of 83, for many good things. But I'll always remember him for helping us break a big story about the National Advertising Review Board, which celebrates its 25th anniversary this week.

I only talked with Mr. Mumford on the phone several times, but he figured in one of the most interesting news stories I was ever involved in, and it shows how reporters sometimes get their information in very roundabout ways.

It was in the fall of 1971 when we on the New York editorial staff got word that the American Association of Advertising Agencies had called a press conference for the following Tuesday to announce the first chairman of the NARB. We took it as a personal affront that we would be a week late with the news of this important appointment, and we vowed to pull out all the stops to print the story of the new NARB head the day before the press conference.

But the industry put a tight lid on the story. The late John Crichton, then president of the Four A's and by the way father of the author Michael Crichton, had been editor of Advertising Age, and he went out of his way to show us no special favors. It was now Friday, the day we go to press, and we had come up with nothing. Nada.

A few weeks before, Lever had announced that Mr. Mumford was retiring. I called him to do a retirement story, and we chatted amiably about the fact that we both lived in Darien, Conn., at the time.

Sam Thurm was Lever's VP-advertising back then. He was also a member of NARB's board. I knew he knew who the new head was, and I also knew he wouldn't knowingly tell us.

So in desperation and with time running out I called Mr. Mumford, and I said the NARB was going to name its first chairman the next week. Sam Thurm, being on the NARB board, most likely knew who the man was, so would Mr. Mumford mind asking Sam the man's identity.

I'll never forget what happened next. Without asking me why I wanted to know, he said wait a minute and left the phone. A few minutes later he returned and said it was Charles Yost of the United Nations (Mr. Yost had served as our ambassador to the U.N.).

I went whooping out of my office shouting, "I've got it!" and we made Mr. Yost the lead story, written by Maurine Christopher. At the press conference the next Tuesday, Maurine (one of the best reporters we ever had) reported that John Crichton spent most of the time looking glumly at his shoes.

Many years ago I told Sam Thurm how we broke the story. Sam, now retired and living in Florida, said he'd always wondered why Mr. Mumford wanted to know who the new head of the NARB was. As I suspected, Sam confirmed that Mr. Mumford never mentioned that a guy from Ad Age was on the phone wanting information on the head of some then-obscure self-regulatory organization.

And, as Sam said, you don't argue with the chairman of the board. Sam, by the way, has given his blessing to my writing this little scenario.

Mr. Yost, for his part, served as the head of the NARB for two years. He presided over the first meeting on Nov. 17, 1971, amid "sheer chaos," according to reports at the time, but by the next January he had whipped the NARB board into displaying "an amazing unanimity." Mr. Yost went form there to head the National Committee for U.S.-China relations. He died in 1981.

Mr. Mumford retired to Pebble Beach, Calif. I hope he knew how helpful to me and Advertising Age he was 25 years ago, although I have always thought he enjoyed what to him was a small intrusion in his life.

Most Popular
In this article: