Milton B. Bellis 1924 - 2017
Milton B. Bellis, who died April 16, 2017 at age 92, was a United Press foreign correspondent in the news agency’s heyday before turning to public relations. He retired in 2001 from the International Swaps and Derivatives Association (ISDA), the global group for financial risk-management instruments, where he was director of communications and media relations. Earlier he worked at the Hill & Knowlton and Carl Byoir public relations firms.
Mr. Bellis is survived by his wife Carole Anne Bellis. Other survivors are his late brother Arnold’s children Morris, Jeffrey, Valerie, Keith, Leslie Vaughn and Brian.
Mrs. Bellis took over as nurse and caretaker in 2007 when he was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), the fatal Lou Gehrig’s disease, and lost the ability to swallow. Four years later the diagnosis was changed to polyneuropathy. For a time he continued to do pro bono work for Art Beyond Sight among others.
The younger of two sons of immigrant parents, Mr. Bellis grew up in St. Paul where his father founded the Bellis Bros. Paper Co., a wholesale distributor. At the city’s Central high school he edited its award-winning student weekly and was a member of its championship gymnastic team.
In World War II he went on active duty with his Naval ROTC unit and served on the aircraft carriers Franklin and Petrof Bay in the Pacific. Afterward he added a Bachelor of Arts degree in journalism to his Bachelor of Science degree at the University of Minnesota while apprenticing on the news staff of the WCCO Minneapolis affiliate of CBS.
After a year in Green Bay as a radio news director, he went to Paris in 1947 for graduate study in history at the Sorbonne while co-producing a weekly radio production, “Ici Paris,” for the French Broadcasting System and freelancing. He then worked in Germany as a civilian employee for Army Special Services and as a Stars and Stripes staffer before joining the United Press as a staff correspondent based in Paris.
His by line initially appeared on such stories as Parisian artist models striking for higher pay by refusing to take off their clothes and flamboyant Paris mayor Marthe Richard trying to nationalize the city’s brothels. Reporting on French military action in North Africa and what was then Indochina, one of his widely published stories told about the fabled golden bell in the ancient Laotian city of Luang Prabang signaling that its inhabitants had driven off Viet Cong invaders. With legendary United Press Moscow correspondent Henry Shapiro, he cracked Soviet censorship to disclose the death of Josef Stalin.
Mr. Bellis left the working press in 1957 to conduct an 18-country public relations program for the Swiss watchmaking industry, marking the start of a new career in which his journalism skills and experience became a major asset.
Back in the U.S. for a time, he worked with the International Rescue Committee during the Hungarian uprising against Soviet oppression and on Sen. Jacob Javits’ first election campaign for the U.S. Senate. He returned to Switzerland to head advertising agency Foote, Cone & Belding’s office there for its Watchmakers of Switzerland advertising and PR campaign.
His marriage in 1957 to Liliane Ivanovna Grounkina lasted 26 years until her death in 1984. She grew up under Soviet rule in Odessa, graduated from its music conservatory and through marriage became a French citizen. When the Nazis invaded she drove a Red Cross ambulance. After her husband, an army reserve officer, was killed in combat, she escaped with her dogs to Villefranche on the French Riviera where she and a companion, a Beaux Arts graduate, forged counterfeit documents for the French underground.
In 1959 Milton Bellis and his wife Liliane moved from Switzerland into a New York penthouse on Riverside Drive, the Bellis residence from then on. His activities ranged from corporate proxy fights to tourism promotion for the Greek government and New York State’s Catskills region, from corporate relations and product publicity for Nestlé to a long association with the “21” Brands half of the “21” Club dynasty. His crisis management for South Dakota in the wake of the 1972 Rapid City killer flood won the Public Relations Society’s Silver Anvil award. He counseled the United Jewish Appeal and handled press relations for the World Jewish Congress. He worked with Bell & Howell’s Charles Percy, Baxter, Elektra Records, Metromedia and American Hardware/Emhart in its successful proxy fight against corporate raider Victor Muscat. For New York City’s efforts to attract tourists during its fiscal crisis in 1975, he organized events that drew national attention to the Big Apple’s restaurants.
Later that year Mr. Bellis joined Carl Byoir & Associates, which 11 years later merged with Hill & Knowlton to form what was then the world’s largest public relations operation. He worked on media relations and other activities for Allied Signal/Honeywell, General Electric Nuclear, General Dynamics, Glaxo Smith Klein, H&R Block, Smith & Wesson, the State of Missouri, Woolworth and the introduction of the Visa credit card. His promotion of Northeast Utilities’ energy conservation program earned him his second Silver Anvil. He publicized the New Orleans International Exposition.
In 1987 Mr. Bellis married Carole Anne Pezza, a New Yorker born and raised in Manhattan. Her experience as chief receptionist for Carl Byoir Associates, Hill & Knowlton, The Dilenshneider Group and as an organizer of press events was utilized after ISDA recruited Mr. Bellis in 1993. She ran the press rooms at ISDA’s annual meetings in the U.S, Europe and Australia and accompanied her husband on media relations trips to the Far East and elsewhere.