Local Public Relations Leaders Debra Silimeo, Robert Mathias and Don McLearn to Be Inducted into National Capital Public Relations Hall of Fame | PRSA-NCC
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Local Public Relations Leaders Debra Silimeo, Robert Mathias and Don McLearn to Be Inducted into National Capital Public Relations Hall of Fame

Lifetime Achievement Awards to be Bestowed at Annual Thoth Gala
August 7, 2015

WASHINGTON, DC August 7, 2015The Public Relations Society of America’s National Capital Chapter (PRSA-NCC) will induct Debra Silimeo, Robert Mathias and Don McLearn into the National Capital Public Relations Hall of Fame this year. The induction ceremony will take place at PRSA-NCC’s Annual Thoth Awards Gala on September 16, 2015 from 6:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m. at the National Press Club in Washington, DC. Tickets are available now at www.prsa-ncc.org.

“We are very excited to honor these three amazing professionals who have each made such incredibly meaningful contributions to our profession, and who have mentored and served as important role models for the professionals they have interacted with over the last 30 years,” said PRSA National Capital Chapter President, Mitch Marovitz. “It’s a thrill to honor them this year, and we look forward to hearing their words of wisdom as they are inducted at the Thoth Gala in September.”

Ms. Silimeo is executive vice president of Hager Sharp. After joining the firm in 2000, Silimeo worked with the firm’s founder, Susan Hager (Hall of Fame, 2005), to develop the strategies and client relationships that led to the firm quadrupling in size and revenue. Silimeo was instrumental in the firm’s successful transition from a sole proprietorship to an Employee Stock Ownership Plan following Hager’s sudden passing eight years ago. Under Silimeo’s leadership, Hager Sharp is now one of the nation’s leading firms in education and health, and has won many major national awards, including PRSA’s top award for national public service campaign.

Prior to her tenure with Hager Sharp, Silimeo served as associate administrator of the U.S. Small Business Administration, where she led an agency-wide effort to change the public face of SBA with a more customer-focused image and marketing approach and to align all SBA products and services under one brand. This contributed to new records in lending and assistance, especially women and minority business, and the brand elements are still used today. She was recruited as deputy director of public affairs at the Commerce Department to coordinate media activities for the secretary, emphasizing passage of the China trade bill, a presidential priority. At the Senate Democratic Policy Committee, she coordinated communication strategy to help pass President Clinton’s 1993 Economic Plan, which led to a balanced federal budget and years of prosperity. Later, she was instrumental in the minimum wage increase and getting the first Paycheck Fairness Act on the docket. Senate Leader Tom Daschle said, “Debra made an enormous contribution to our efforts to lead the Senate in difficult times.”

Silimeo actually began her career in journalism, as the calming voice on WAMU’s Morning Edition. During her tenure, Morning Edition moved into the number one fundraising position at a station where bluegrass once ruled. From there, Silimeo moved to the WTOP and WRC newsrooms. She was a versatile, award-winning reporter who could dive into political issues or give hourly updates during a blizzard.

Silimeo graduated cum laude from Temple University’s School of Communications and Theater and is a Bagehot Fellow in Business and Economics Journalism at Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism, the country’s leading business/economic journalism fellowship.

Silimeo was named Washington Women in Public Relations’  “Washington PR Woman of the Year” in 2010, and Washington Business Journal’s “Woman Who Means Business” in 2013. According to her nominator, Hager Sharp Senior Vice President, Darcy Sawatzki, “ is the essence of the ideal inductee for the National Capital Public Relations Hall of Fame dedication to the profession, other professionals and the community.”  

Robert Mathias, CEO, North America, Ogilvy Public Relations and president, Ogilvy Washington, once said, “I have been at this for more than 20 years. I have seen that great careers result from sweat, foresight, courage and, yes, a fair amount of luck. Dream large. Work hard. Have fun.”

This quote “embodies the kind of mentor Rob Mathias has been to countless public relations professionals,” said nominator Sarah Chase, business development manager at Ogilvy Public Relations.

Since 1995, Mathias has worked for Ogilvy PR in various roles. Under his leadership, Ogilvy Washington grew to be the gem of the Ogilvy network, producing such landmark campaigns as CDC’s America Respond to AIDS, NHBLI’s The Heart Truth and Save the Children’s Rewrite the Future. In 2012, Mathias was promoted to CEO for Ogilvy Public Relations in North America. He restructured the way Ogilvy PR in North America approaches business and clients, elevating four executives to lead social, earned, content, and insight and strategy. He still maintains his role as President of Ogilvy Washington.

Prior to his work at Ogilvy, Mathias lived and worked in Saudi Arabia where he was part of a six-person team that designed and built a modern emergency medical services (EMS) system across the Kingdom. Then, under President Bush’s administration, Mathias served as the executive assistant to U.S. Energy Secretary, James D. Watkins, and subsequently as deputy assistant secretary at the Department of Energy. He played a vital role in Secretary Watkins’ “Openness” agenda to reform and restore public confidence in this diverse government agency responsible for the research and development of the nation’s nuclear weapons stockpile, basic and applied energy research, and the development of the nation’s energy policy. Mathias later served on the Presidential Commission on the HIV Epidemic, conducting research and developing policy recommendations on prevention, education and public health.

Mathias attended college at the University of Vermont and obtained a Master’s in Business Administration from the Yale School of Management.

Don McLearn, who is retired now, had a 30-year career that included more than 17 years as deputy associate commissioner for public affairs at the U. S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). In this post, McLearn counseled the FDA's top officials and served as public affairs and press chief for the Presidential Commission on the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) Epidemic. McLearn’s extensive FDA experience also included health and food-related media relations, crisis management and public relations.

After leaving the FDA, McLearn served as a senior vice president in the Healthcare Practice at FleishmanHillard, providing strategic counsel to a variety of the world's leading biotech and pharmaceutical companies. He was also a senior healthcare counselor at Ruder Finn assisting clients dealing with crisis management, corporate reputation, prescription drug and medical device approvals, public affairs and issues management.

McLearn has a master's degree in journalism and communications from The University of Florida. He was features editor for the Tampa (Fla.) Times for three years before joining the federal government. In addition, he served as a journalist for four years in the U.S. Navy.

McLearn is described by his nominator, Michelle Leff Mermelstein, public relations manager at Sprint, as “a senior counselor to clients but a true mentor and friend to everyone in the office. Many of his “work children,” are grateful for his influence on our personal and professional lives. He has inspired dozens of young PR professionals in the DC area and beyond.”

The chapter started the National Capital Public Relations Hall of Fame in 1999 by inducting 50 leaders with significant accomplishments in the public relations field as part of the chapter’s 50th Anniversary celebration.  The Hall of Fame members hold more than a thousand awards, distinctions, honorary degrees, advisory positions, charity board seats and Who’s Who citations among them. Criteria for induction in the NCC Public Relations Hall of Fame includes 30 or more years of distinguished accomplishments,  visionary leadership, mentoring, commitment to the profession, positive and significant impacts on the industry, and contributions to the local public relations community. Inductees must have worked in the Washington, D.C. area for at least 10 years. View the list of Hall of Fame Members at the PRSA-NCC website.