The Midlands has lost a visionary arts supporter. Marvin Chernoff’s firm, Chernoff/Silver & Associates, received the Elizabeth O’Neill Verner Governor’s Award for the Arts in 2001.
Marvin Chernoff, founder of what is now the Chernoff/Newman public relations firm and longtime supporter of the arts, died late Wednesday at 82.
He had battled incurable throat cancer for more than a year.
When interviewed by The State last year upon the release of his autobiography, “Unlikely Success: How a Guy Without a Clue Built One Hell-of-a-Business,” he was asked for some input on his inevitable obit.
Ever the ad man and spin doctor, Chernoff went one better. He wrote his own. Here is the edited version:
Through the second half of Marvin Chernoff’s life, he would often say, “Life is short, so live it up.”
Chernoff’s life started in a row of tenements in Brooklyn, N.Y. He was married and divorced twice before he was 25 and then married three more times, including to Ina who passed away in 2003, the mother of his children — Janet Ritter, Paul Chernoff and Jessie Boyle.
Chernoff’s career started with jobs as delicatessen clerk, buyer, carnival and fair barker, cab driver, yarn salesman and office equipment salesman. And then, after all that, he started building his career.
In 1968, Chernoff volunteered in the successful political campaign to elect Carl Stokes as mayor of Cleveland, the first black leader of a major American city. Chernoff later saidhis life took new meaning, partially because he had the opportunity to work alongside the Revs.Jesse Jackson and Martin Luther King Jr.
His family survives him: Janet, the wife of Paul Ritter and mother of Michael, married to Elise, Daniel and Emily Ritter; Paul, father of Benjamin; Jessie, mother of Rebecca, Ryan and Jacob Boyle; Anastasia who, to the end, remained his best friend and mother of his stepdaughter, Lauren Meads; and former wife, Susan DeFoe.
After working in campaigns throughout the Midwest, including the presidential primary for U.S. Sen. Hubert Humphrey and the presidential campaign of U.S. Sen. George McGovern, both Democrats, Chernoff came to Columbia in 1974 to run the gubernatorial campaign of Charles “Pug” Ravenel.
Using campaign techniques that were new to the region, Ravenel won the Democratic primary, tantamount to election in those days, and then was disqualified because of a residency requirement.
When the election ended, Chernoff opened an advertising and public relations agency in Columbia, Marvin Chernoff and Associates, which morphed into Chernoff/Silver and, then, finally Chernoff/Newman.
The agency has been operating for 40 years. At its apex, it had more than 100 employees and more than $80 million in capitalized billings. It had clients in the political field, in government and in business. At one time, the agency ran national campaigns for Shell Oil Co. and for the Nickelodeon Network. It also ran the media campaign for Bill Clinton’s first election as governor of Arkansas.
At the same time, Chernoff became involved in the arts as a supporter of organizations, including Trustus Theater and the Columbia City Ballet. Chernoff acted as producer of the ballet’s “Off the Wall and On the Stage – Dancing the Art of Jonathan Green” ballet.
Trustus Theater recently named its new cocktail lounge “Marv’s Bar” in his honor.
Chernoff also conceived and was instrumental in the Steel Palmetto Tree project and in the Columbia Festival of the Arts.
Among the many awards Chernoff won were the S.C. Order of the Palmetto for his support of education, the Columbia “Corporate Citizen of the Year” award and the Verner Award for support of the arts, and he was named “Ambassador of the Year” by the Greater Columbia Chamber of Commerce. He also won the S.C. Business and the Arts Partnership Award three times.
Chernoff/Silver was recognized by regional and national public relations associations for its work with the Doolittle Raiders, with Dayton Power and Light and the Fighting Back campaign against drug and alcohol abuse.
After battling throat cancer for more than a year, Chernoff passed away in his sleep Wednesday. He predicted he would be surrounded by 1,524 of his close friends, holding hands and singing Kumbaya.