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updated: 4/3/2014 11:08 AM

Suburban woman was more than just a receptionist

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  • Patricia Tyrrell was the first person visitors ranging from famous actors to pro athletes would meet at the J. Walter Thompson ad agency's offices in Chicago.

      Patricia Tyrrell was the first person visitors ranging from famous actors to pro athletes would meet at the J. Walter Thompson ad agency's offices in Chicago.
    Courtesy of Bridget Duniec

 
By Eileen O. Daday
Daily Herald correspondent

Patricia Tyrrell worked as a longtime receptionist at the famed Chicago ad agency J. Walter Thompson, but her role superseded her title.

As the receptionist on the agency's creative floor, she served as the gatekeeper to celebrities that waited to meet with producers, casting directors, and designers who created some of the firm's iconic ad campaigns.

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"She was around when a lot of advertising history was made," said Mike Kalasunas, former strategy planning director for J. Walter Thompson.

Tyrrell passed away on Sunday. The longtime Hinsdale resident was 93.

"My mother just had an incredible life, with all the people she was able to see and meet," said her daughter, Patty Duniec of Geneva.

Tyrell began working at the agency in the "Mad Men" days of advertising in the early 1960s. She came at the urging of her cousin, Mary Pat Hutton, who later would become head of the creative department.

"It was a time when ad agencies were very productive," Kalasunas said. "She would have seen a lot of people."

Tyrrell's career lasted 25 years before she retired in 1985. From behind her desk, she greeted everyone from Ed Herlihy, the "Voice of Kraft," to actress Shelly Long, before her days on "Cheers," and members of the Chicago Bears, who often appeared in ads for the Ford Dealers' Association, to name just a few.

"We were a big family back then," Kalasunas says. "We were very close, and Pat was a big part of that."

One of her favorites to come on the floor was child actor John Gilchrist, who played "Mikey," in the Life cereal ads.

"He liked to sit right next to mother at her desk," Duniec said.

Tyrrell's brushes with fame started in college, when she attended St. Mary's College in Notre Dame, Ind. One of her friends was the niece of legendary Notre Dame football coach Knute Rockne. During their freshman year, in 1940, they appeared as college students in the classic autobiographical film, "Knute Rockne, All American."

Tyrrell and her husband, Robert, raised their three children in Oak Park. Their son, R. Emmett Tyrrell, later co-founded and still serves as editor-in-chief of "The American Spectator" magazine in Washington, D.C.

As a result of her son's connections, Pat Tyrrell attended many events in Washington and met Presidents Ronald Reagan, George H. Bush, and George W. Bush, as well as many of their top aides.

"She knew so many people," and they all remembered her," her daughter said. "She just had this way about her, that drew people to her."

Tyrrell was preceded in death by her husband. Besides her son and daughter, she is survived by another son, Roger (Linda) Tyrrell, as well as eight grandchildren and one great grandson.

Services have been held.

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