I just learned of the passing of advertising legend Gary Prouk on March 7. Gary was a larger-than-life figure whose outspoken passion for advertising, design and other matters of taste, often got him into words of war with other in business (his words often the most bitingly eloquent). With his track record in the business, he certainly earned his right to his opinions.
The other side of Gary was his passion for his friends. For many years, he was a consultant to Applied Arts Magazine and wrote an online column for the our blog and newsletter called Prouk’s Picks, in which his eclectic tastes in art, design and other visual matters were shared with world at large. A couple times a year he and I would go for lunch and he would hold court in a restaurant, nodding to and exchanging words with other patrons, people from the business, who inevitably recognized him.
While Gary liked to make pronouncements and awe you with his wide range of interests, he would also listen closely to what you had to say. He considered my fondness for mysteries by eccentric Scandinavians and hardboiled Americans and then he and his wife, Susan Andrews, would compose reading lists for me that have broadened my horizons considerably. He found that I loved to practise karate, and soon T-shirts with Japanese writing, devoted to particular karate styles, or the fictional sword smith in Kill Bill, began to arrive in my office. If he found a book or music CD he loved, Gary would insist after lunch you that you go to a store with him so he could buy you one too. His generosity was bottomless.
I remember receiving a series of astounding pictures emailed from the garden he and Susan cultivated at their country home, a private paradise where they could recharge their batteries, for their work at Sebastian Consultancy. Gary and I had talked a few times about joining the two of them for one of their glorious dinners. This is one meal I’ll always regret not having.
The following is Gary Prouk’s obit from the Globe and Mail:
One of the most prominent figures in Canadian advertising, passed away in Toronto on March 7, 2013. Known for his eloquence, strong opinions and cutting wit, Gary began his advertising career at MacLaren Advertising after moving from Toronto to New York to try his hand at writing and poetry. ‘They hired me at $35 a week ($1,800 a year) to write ads for Hunt’s and Woman’s Bakery and Eno’s Fruit Salts,’ Gary told Doug Linton for a 2008 profile in Marketing. From there, his talent and passion for advertising grew when, working at Ronalds-Reynolds, he began working on the Ballantine’s whisky account, for which he won a New York Art Director’s Show award. ‘I knew I had a talent for writing advertising,’ he said. ‘And I was really impressed with the fact something you created could be seen by millions.’ He first came to prominence in Canada when he joined the just- opened Toronto office of DDB in 1967. He would be named its creative director at the age of 26 and move to New York before returning to Canada to become CD and chairman of Scali McCabe Sloves (SMS) in 1978, where he stayed until 1994. In his various senior roles at Canadian agencies, Gary had strong connections to several of the industry’s biggest names – leaders such as Bill Bernbach, one of DDB’s founding fathers. Writing to Bernbach to resign from the agency in 1978 was a painful experience. ‘He and my mother gave me my value system,’ he told Linton. ‘DDB was the family I never really had. Bill was the father I always wanted.’ In turn, Gary himself became a defining figure in many careers that now shape Canadian agencies. Gary shared many anecdotes from his lengthy career with Linton, now chair of the Canadian Advertising Museum, for the profile called ‘Passion of the Prouk,’ which includes more details Gary’s history in the industry, including the advertising that famously established Nabob Coffee in Canada, the launch of Apple Computers in Canada, the creation of The Caramilk Secret, and the launch of Lactantia PurFiltre Milk. Gary, his wit, his humour, his mischievousness, his giant heart and endless generosity will be sorely missed by Susan and all their family and friends. Friends are invited to visit on Tuesday, March 12, 2013 from 5 p.m. – 8 p.m. at the Rosar-Morrison Funeral Home & Chapel, 467 Sherbourne St. (south of Wellesley). Memorial donations to the Odette Cancer Centre at Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre are gratefully appreciated. Thank you to the wonderful people in the medical community who helped Gary, and for whom he had such great admiration, respect and liking. Rosar Morrison Funeral Home & Chapel