Barbara Gardner Proctor, Trailblazing Ad Woman, Dies at 85

Illustration for article titled Barbara Gardner Proctor, Trailblazing Ad Woman, Dies at 85
Photo: Barbara Gardner Proctor (Getty Images)

In 1963, Barbara Gardener Proctor was flying to Europe to swap records while working for a black-owned record company. Upon her arrival back home, Vee-Jay records started publicizing her find. Soon, “England’s No.1 Vocal Group,” the Beatles, would be everywhere.

Proctor, a trailblazing businesswoman and community activist, died on Dec. 19, according to her son Morgan. She was 85.

Born to a 16-year-old single mother in North Carolina, Proctor was raised in a dirt-floor shack by her grandparents before earning a teacher’s certificate from Talladega College in Alabama. After a detour in Chicago left her penniless, Proctor stuck around.


Beyond her early contributions to radio airwaves, Proctor founded the first ad agency founded by a black woman. After securing a $1,000 loan from a friend and office space above a Pizzeria Uno, her clientele grew to include Kraft foods. By the 1980s, she’d risen to national prominence with the help of a mention from Ronald Reagan during his 1983 State of the Union speech. The “rose from a ghetto shack” who went on to “build a multi-million-dollar advertising agency in Chicago” would see her firm, Proctor and Gardner, dissolved by 1995. Still, her firm’s end was due in large part to competition from other black-owned firms, a space her handiwork had created.

Five years earlier, Proctor reflected on her trailblazer status.

“It is not, in any way, easy to be a minority company,” Proctor said, “and as I am a woman and black, it has been a double minority situation.”

Contributing Editor. When he's not pullin' up, he's usually jumpin' out. You can find him in the cut.

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