WASHINGTON, DC—Howard Paster, who was a key advisor to Bill and Hillary Clinton, helped revive Hill & Knowlton as a global public relations force during the 1990s, and went on to lead all of WPP’s public relations holdings, has died at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore. Paster, who was 66, had encephalitis caused by a brain tumor.
Born in Brooklyn in 1944, Paster received a master’s degree from from Columbia University’s journalism school, but took early jobs working for Rep. Lester Wolff (D-N.Y.) and Sen. Birch Bayh (D-Ind.), and then became a lobbyist for the United Auto Workers, where his successful efforts to reduce union pay cuts associated with the Chrysler loan guarantees attracted the attention of lobbying firm Timmons.
At Timmons (which was acquired by WPP in 1989), he worked on behalf of clients including Eastern Airlines, Morgan Stanley, Major League Baseball and the National Rifle Association.
In 1992, with Hill & Knowlton still reeling from the fallout of its controversial work on behalf of the Church of Scientology, the US Conference of Catholic Bishops (on the abortion issue) and the Kuwaiti government (urging American intervention in the first Gulf War), Paster became chairman of public affairs and general manager of the firm’s Washington office.
A few months later, however, he left to take up a role as President Clinton’s chief lobbyist in Congress, where his most notable achievement was securing the passage of the North American Free Trade Agreement. According to Bill Richardson, the former governor of New Mexico and a Democratic congressman, Paster “was most effective person to person. He would charm you to death. When he said the president needs you, he’d do it with a smile… and made you feel that the president really did need you.”
In December of 1993, he returned to Hill & Knowlton as chairman and chief executive and helped to turn the firm around, restoring its reputation for integrity and providing strategic C-suite counsel to several key clients.
In 2002, he was named executive vice president of the WPP Group, responsible for the firm’s public relations holdings, which include Burson-Marsteller, Cohn & Wolfe and Ogilvy Public Relations Worldwide as well as H&K. In the same year, he was elected president of the Little League Foundation, the culmination of a lifelong love of the sport.
In 2008, he served as chief operating officer for Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign. In a statement, the Clintons said: “We will remember Howard for his passion and candor, and his dedication to public service.”