For more than 40 years, Mary Deming Barber made her mark in the world of public relations.
She recently retired as president and CEO of The Barber Group, a strategic communication and PR consultancy she founded in June 2000.
Throughout her storied career, Mary served a variety of food-related clients, including those representing beef, sheep, seafood, raisins, potatoes and prunes. Now she’s serving as a Council Member for the City of Gig Harbor, WA.
No matter what her role has been, though, there’s one thing Mary especially enjoyed about her professional life: being challenged.
“Lifelong learning is a huge focus of mine,” she says.
Leaving the world better than we found it as a professional volunteer
In 1985, Mary took a break from her public relations work to serve as the statewide volunteer coordinator for Bob Packwood, a U.S. Senator from Oregon who had a successful political campaign. “It was a brand-new component of my career,” she explains.
Prior to marrying and moving to Alaska in 1991, Mary worked in Portland, Denver and San Francisco. In Alaska, she learned a lot about communicating with, and telling the stories of, different cultures. She started The Barber Group when she had two little boys and wanted more freedom and balance.
Then in fall 2010, Mary took a six week leave from her business to serve as a volunteer senior communication specialist on Senator Lisa Murkowski’s historic write-in campaign, for which she received a PRSA Silver Anvil Award.
The experience is a definite high point of her career, reminding her that people really can make a difference and her volunteer work was effective.
“I’ve been a lifelong volunteer,” Mary says. “I truly believe that it’s our responsibility to leave the world in a better place than we found it. I’ve spent my entire life trying to do that.”
Additionally, Mary, a graduate of Whitman College, has volunteered for the College since 1978, including serving as president of her alma mater’s alumni board.
“Whether as a Sunday school teacher or a Red Cross volunteer in high school, a leader in my fraternity in college or member of the many nonprofit boards I’ve served, my focus has always been on improving community,” Mary says. “I do this because I believe that each one of us can make a difference.”
Giving back to the PR industry
Mary is a firm believer in the accreditation process and received her APR in 1999.
“It gives you professional confidence that you understand the fundamentals – and more – of our profession,” she says. “It’s a personal accomplishment within your profession.”
Mary has lent her time and talent to a number of national PR organizations. She’s served on the PRSA’s board of directors, College of Fellows and in its foundation. In 2019, Mary was awarded the organization’s prestigious Patrick Jackson Award for Distinguished Service.
She also served as president of the Ad2 Division of the American Advertising Federation and the International Foodservice Editorial Council, as well as on the boards for the Alaska Botanical Garden, United Way of Anchorage and the Imaginarium Science Discovery Center, which is now part of the Anchorage Museum.
Mary has also given back to the PR industry as a long-time Solo PR Pro member. In fact, she was one of the very first members and remembers the lively Twitter chats that founder and former president Kellye Crane started.
Looking ahead to the future
Since closing The Barber Group in 2020 and retiring from the profession, Mary has made more time for herself and her other passions like hand weaving, gardening and doing marketing for her brother’s farm business.
A Portland native who now lives in Gig Harbor, Washington, Mary formerly served on the city’s Parks Commission and currently sits on City Council, where she offers a strategic perspective to the discussions around small town growth issues like stormwater, short term rentals and code enforcement.
These are the types of involvements Mary has had much more time to focus on now that she’s retired. In fact, she encourages all PR professionals to not lose sight of themselves and carve out time in their lives for them.
“I think that’s one of the things that is really important for us in the public relations profession is to remember that we’re people first, and we need to take care of ourselves,” Mary says. “It’s something that I find myself saying more and more to people: don't forget yourself.”