The Lighter Side: Q&A with St. Louis Press Club President Joan Berkman

Joan Berkman. Photo courtesy Strauss Peyton Photography

Joan Berkman. Photo courtesy Strauss Peyton Photography

BILL MOTCHAN, Special to the Jewish Light

The Jewish Light recently talked with Joan Berkman, president of the St. Louis Press Club and president of Face Watchers Public Relations, as part of The Lighter Side series — short interviews with interesting people in the St. Louis Jewish community. Berkman, who grew up in St. Louis and graduated from Clayton High School — “I was the captain of the cheerleaders,” she said, laughing — spent her career working in public relations and as a lobbyist in Washington, D.C. and Jefferson City.

Briefly describe your role as president of the press club.

I work alongside our board of incredibly talented journalists to help protect the future quality of local media. Our mission is to raise awareness and funding for student journalism scholarships and for independent journalists to spotlight marginalized stories in our region.

When you retired from AT&T, UMSL’s former chancellor Blanche Touhill gave you some tips on how to retire gracefully. You have a fairly busy schedule. Is that the retirement lifestyle that works for you?

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I treasured Blanche’s mentorship. She knew how much I enjoyed working and immediately after leaving AT&T, she asked if I would come to work for her at the university. But I truly needed a breather. Three months later, I realized retirement wasn’t a fit for me, and I established my public relations, marketing and special events firm, which continues to keep me energized and engaged in the community.

How did your career in corporate communications prepare you for your new endeavor writing a business ethics column for “Town and Style?”

I received invaluable training at every level of my management career. Part of that work was as a lobbyist, which provided ample opportunities to work with a diversity of personalities which provided even more depth and insight for my work as a columnist.

Your mother, Eleanor, was a community volunteer. Did her work influence your own volunteerism?

Everything I learned about volunteer work, I learned from my mother. She had so much heart, energy, talent and drive – I still hope to be like her one day.

When you were hired by Southwestern Bell in the early ’70s, the company called your parents for permission to hire you because the idea of a woman in management was a new concept. Is there still work to do in acceptance of women in the C-suite?

Of course, not only the acceptance of women but also with regard to diversity in the C-Suite. However, I think there has been some progress and at least from my experience at AT&T, I had the privilege to work for the first African American male and female and two other female presidents during my career which I think speaks well of the company.

What kinds of activities have you engaged in to try and keep your sanity during the pandemic?

If there is a silver lining to this interlude, it has provided me with a rare opportunity to spend more time on a deeper level with family, friends and colleagues to laugh and learn so much more. Like everyone else, I’ve hiked and walked almost every possible trail in the neighborhood and dark chocolate has been a constant companion.