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Patricia L. Tobin, 1943 - 2008

Pioneering publicist a networking master

June 11, 2008|Jocelyn Y. Stewart | Times Staff Writer

In a city of millions, where knowing the right person can mean the difference between realizing a dream and watching it wither, Pat Tobin was one of the people to know.

Without the Hollywood pretense -- the air kisses, the "Have your people call my people" -- Tobin brought people together: entertainers with their audiences, sellers with buyers, communities in need with those possessing cash.

For 25 years in Los Angeles she was viewed by many as a queen of public relations, master of the fine art of networking, and guru of event planning, particularly among the city's African Americans.

The work took her across a spectrum of the city, from Hollywood to South Los Angeles. In that disparate landscape she developed a long list of clients who recognized her as a bridge linking them to whomever they needed to know. But most often they came to see her as a friend -- who happened to have one of the city's best Rolodexes.

Tobin, who was also co-founder of the National Black Public Relations Society, died of cancer Tuesday at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles. She was 65.

"She will be remembered for opening the doors to new possibilities," said Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Los Angeles), a longtime friend. "She's a pioneer who opened up opportunities for African Americans to take on major corporate accounts in ways that had not been done before."

The first door she opened was one for herself. Patricia L. Tobin was born Feb. 28, 1943, in White Plains, N.Y., and raised there and in Philadelphia. She graduated from Overbrook High School, later earned an associate's degree from the Charles Morris Price School of Journalism and moved to Los Angeles in 1977

Tobin landed at job at KCBS-TV Channel 2 when it was still KNXT, where she organized a successful event for sportscaster Jim Hill in the early 1980s. It marked the start of her weekly Thursday "media nights" or "journalist jams," where people "would come, mix and mingle, exchange business cards and develop friendships," said Tobin's daughter, Lauren, of Panther PR.

But Tobin realized the limited opportunities for minorities in her field. It was a time when few corporations and advertisers acknowledged African American consumers and their buying power. She left her job and in 1983 started Tobin & Associates. Her then-teenage daughter was headed to college soon.

"We're going to starve," Lauren Tobin remembered saying. Pat Tobin said: "You watch."

What Lauren witnessed was Tobin transforming those attributes that seemed to come naturally to her -- a vibrant personality, a ready smile, a desire to help worthy endeavors succeed -- into a business.

"She wanted everybody to benefit. She worked for the win-win," said Tracy Underwood, a friend and an official at Toyota.

In 1987 when the prime minister of Japan made disparaging comments about African Americans and African American leaders protested, Tobin saw opportunity. She approached Japanese businesses, including Toyota, which hired her company to work on brand building, community relations and publicity in ethnic communities.

"She opened doors for us where it would have been much more difficult for Toyota to have a presence," said Irv Miller, group vice president, corporate communications, for Toyota Motor Sales.

While developing a client list that over the years would include Spike Lee, Johnnie L. Cochran Jr. and Louis Gossett Jr., she mentored scores of students and professionals. She was a constant presence in the life of the community, volunteering her services, "whether it was on Free South Africa or issues of healthcare or police accountability," said state Sen. Mark Ridley-Thomas. "That says a lot about who she was."

With the Black Journalists Assn. of Southern California, Tobin helped organize conferences, used her contacts to help raise thousands of dollars in scholarship funds and secured speakers for events, said Gayle Pollard-Terry, a member of the association's board and former Times staff writer.

Tobin knew so many people, she made the city seem smaller, more welcoming.

"She wasn't all about self," Underwood said. "She really tried to make you feel like you were a part of her inner circle even if you just met."

In addition to her daughter, Tobin is survived by a grandson, Aaron Curry; a brother, William Randolph, and a sister, Daisy Tinson, both of Philadelphia; and several nieces and nephews.

Memorial donations may be made to the Pat Tobin Scholarship Fund or Pat Tobin Memorial Fund, 4929 Wilshire Blvd., Suite 245, Los Angeles, CA 90010.

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jocelyn.stewart@latimes.com

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