Joe S. Epley, APR, Fellow PRSA, a decorated PRSA leader who was a friend and mentor to many members and champion for the ethical practice of public relations, died suddenly in his South Carolina home on Nov. 5. He was 85.
Epley served as PRSA’s president in 1991 and was the chair of the PRSA Foundation twice. He also has served as chair of the PRSA College of Fellows and the Counselors Academy. He was a board member of PRSA’s North Carolina Chapter until he co-founded the Charlotte Chapter, where he was the president in 1980.
In 2008, he received PRSA’s highest individual honor — the Gold Anvil. In presenting him with the award that year, Board Chair Jeffrey Julin, APR, remarked: “Joe Epley has distinguished himself over many years as a sophisticated, ethical professional who has been an inspirational leader of PRSA. He is a credit to the profession and to this organization in every respect, and he is a worthy recipient of this honor.”
Epley founded Epley Associates, Inc., in 1968. The full-service firm represented a variety of clients ranging from Fortune 100 companies to local nonprofits, many of them clients for more than two decades. He was also a founding partner in Worldcom Public Relations Group, a network of independent firms that grew to include businesses in 35 countries. Epley helped establish professional, ethical public relations in Russia shortly after the collapse of the former Soviet Union. For his work there, the Russian Public Relations Association made him a lifetime member in 2005.
He advocated for social responsibility and open, ethical corporate behavior — years before laws and a changing business environment compelled it. A 1993 study he presented to the Defense Information School on ethics in military public affairs is also credited for putting professional ethics standards on the decision-making table in that segment of the PR profession.
In addition to an excellent personal reputation for professional ethics, Epley required his employees to embrace PRSA’s Code of Ethics, including adherence to the Code in client contracts.
Epley, who joined the U.S. Army in 1958, proudly served as a member of the Army National Guard for over 20 years. The deep friendships he formed with the 11th Special Forces Unit in Charlotte, N.C., were lifelong. In recent years, he was a valued member of Special Forces Association Chapter 363 in Upstate South Carolina.
A native of Forest City, N.C., he worked as a television news reporter and editor in Asheville and Charlotte before transitioning into a PR career.
Among Epley’s honors are election to the University of North Carolina’s Journalism School Public Relations Hall of Fame, the Defense Information School Hall of Fame, and the Order of the Long Leaf Pine, North Carolina’s highest award for noteworthy citizens.
After selling his firm in 2005, Epley and his wife, Dorcas Starnes Epley, retired to Columbus, N.C., where they both became active in the community, volunteering their time and expertise in organizations such as Thermal Belt Outreach Ministry and Polk County Historical Society. Epley channeled his interest in military history into two fact-based novels about the Carolinas’ involvement in the American Revolutionary War.
In 2019, he and Dorcas moved to the Woodlands at Furman in Greenville, S.C., where he joined OLLI (Osher Lifelong Learning Institute) at Furman University.
He is survived by Dorcas, his wife of 64 years; two children, Meredith Epley McGinnis of Travelers Rest, S.C., and Stewart Taylor Epley, of Charlotte, N.C.; his sister, Katherine Tischler, of Winston-Salem, N.C.; five grandchildren; seven great-grandchildren; and many beloved nieces and nephews and their children.
Visitation will take place on Nov. 16 at The Howze Mortuary from 10-11 a.m., with the memorial service immediately afterward in the Howze Mortuary Chapel in Travelers Rest, S.C. You can find more details here.