One of South Africa’s best strategic communications practitioners, Ruth Golembo, died unexpectedly late last week. A former business journalist as well as a qualified lawyer, Golembo was an unassuming giant in the industry who walked the fine line between utmost professionalism and an engaging personal style with grace and aplomb.
Golembo had recently sold her prestigious agency, Lange 360 Strategic Communications, to Meropa. Peter Mann, CEO of Meropa, announced her death early on Friday morning.
“We send our deepest condolences to Ruth’s family — her husband Bob and her three beloved sons. Meropa was proud to acquire Ruth’s company, Lange 360 Strategic Communications last year and to integrate it into Meropa.
“Although Ruth retired shortly after the acquisition her presence lives on in our company, in her excellent staff and clients. We had known and admired Ruth for a long time. She was a gifted PR person, a strong entrepreneur, an excellent lawyer, a fine journalist and a wonderful person. She will be sorely missed by all her knew her,” he said.
We asked several media industry personalities to share their memories of Ruth, paying tribute to a woman who changed the face of PR in South Africa.
You could always trust Ruth
I first met Ruth way back in the mists of time when I was the Sunday Times’ Cape Town bureau chief and she was a senior journalist in the Bureau.
Later I wrote speeches for her clients, particularly Pam Golding. Later still we became business rivals — playing, because of our similar background as journalists, in the same sandpit of financial PR, reputational risk, national and local government and corporate clients. Over the years we had many discussions about merging our businesses but the timing never seemed quite right. We were both keen hikers and we crossed paths (and sometimes swords) on Table Mountain from time to time.
When she and Bob first moved to Cape Town they lived in Muizenberg just off Boyes Drive. Their pride and joy was an outside shower where you could happily shower to the backdrop of a breathtaking view of False Bay. Ruth’s laugh bubbled from deep down inside her. She laughed with pleasure about the shower and easily about much else. She was also intense, never flippant, and in her dealings was always honest — sometimes to the point of bluntness — and sincere. You could always trust Ruth. As a friend, and business rival, her integrity was never in doubt. I will miss her deep-throated laughter, her joy of life, her honesty, her rivalry, and not least, her friendship. — Evelyn John Holtzhausen, President of Public Relations Global Network, co-founder of HWB Communications.
World robbed of Ruth
I cannot believe that this world has been robbed of my friend Ruth Golembo. I first learnt about her when her byline appeared in the Sunday Times nearly 30 years ago now. She was one of the first PR people I met when I moved to Cape Town to cover parliament in the 1990s.
Ruth was just one of those special people one never expects to be taken away. She was one of the most vibrant people I have ever known. She was enthusiastic about everything she did. In fact, it was a pleasure to work with her on many occasions on stories which involved her clients (at Lange PR). She was also involved with the Cape Town Press Club and was at one stage vice-chairperson. She was a guru at fundraising for the club quite apart from drawing a number of top speakers to the club.
I am absolutely devastated that I won’t be able to send Ruth a quick email to find out what she thinks of our current politics and financial challenges – or be able to just pick up the phone to hear her infectious laughter. — Donwald Pressly, secretary general o the Cape Town Press Club
She taught me valuable lessons
Although I never worked with Ruth on either agency or client side (we only ever interacted at industry functions), she did teach me at least two valuable lessons.
1. The Power of brand. When she took over Lange PR from founder Jacqui Lange, I asked her why she hadn’t just started her own PR shop. Ruth spoke convincingly about the power of the Lange brand and the status that it held in the marketplace. Effectively, she tipped me off to the importance of reputation. Many years later, we commissioned management consultants to poll current and potential clients on what their trigger factors were for appointing a PR agency and – just as Ruth had called it – reputation turned out to be the single biggest driver in the purchase decision.
2. Speaking out. I got a phone call from Ruth one day admonishing me for trying to head hunt one of her staff. Although that wasn’t strictly true (the staffer had resigned to go overseas and I had persuaded her to stay and join mb instead), Ruth’s message went way beyond the HR matter at hand. She felt, rightly or wrongly, that I had overstepped an agency owner code and her message was more one of a mentor or a business coach, to a stripling in the industry.
Professionally, she ran an excellent consultancy characterised by long-standing client relationships and media respect. I ran into Ruth a few weeks before she so unexpectedly passed. She referred to herself as now having become a “lady who lunches” but her energy levels were palpable. That same warm smile, that same infectious twinkle in her eye. I’m sorry I now have one less industry leader to look up to. RIP Ruth. — Marcus Brewster, chairman marcusbrewster
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