Black Herstory: Shirley Riley-Davis, 1st African-American Clio Winner

Mom with Clio

1972 to this day, was the only year the Clio Awards ceremony would be televised. The winner for The Best Utilities Commercial was a black woman with gorgeous gold eyes – Shirley Riley-Davis. If you’re old enough to remember “Long distance is the next best thing to being there”, you’ll remember the campaign. The spots always made you cry and ready to pick up the phone to call someone you loved. She went on to win three Clios for the campaign and dozens of  awards for ATT Longlines . Heart to Heart article

Shirley Riley-Davis was born, February 4th 1935 in Pittsburg, Pennsylvania and she would become one of the most recognized copywriters to blaze a trail in the 1960’s. As enormously proud as I am to have such a gifted and inspiring parent I am even more grateful to have had such a dynamic, beautiful and silly mom.

I’m posting this not just because of her notable contribution to black herstory, but because I want to honor her on what would have been her 79th birthday. In this first year without her, I want to share her courage and unflinching determination to live her dream even in an era with everything against her.

Best TV Campaign award 2

She was a single mom working, living and raising me in Manhattan independent and unstoppable. Now that I am older walking in her footsteps, I truly understand the very strength that it took. Even in 2014 I face many of the same challenges of racism and sexism but nothing compares to what she endured back then.


Born Shirley Riley in Pittsburgh, she attended the University of Pittsburgh and began her advertising career there.

When she was 18, she won an essay contest on what advertising meant to her. Her first job in advertising was writing copy and shopping columns and creating ads for a large Pittsburgh department store.

The store work was great training for Mrs. Riley-Davis, as sales results gave her immediate feedback on her work.

She soon moved to New York, where she wrote print and radio copy for brands including Old Spice and Manpower Deodorant. She took a job with Ayer as a creative executive working on the AT&T account, among others.

Family matters brought her to Chicago in 1976. She worked on the Kraft Foods account for Ayer’s Chicago office and then was recruited by Leo Burnett, where she worked on such key accounts as Kellogg’s, Allstate Insurance and McDonald’s.

Excerpt – Graydon Megan – Tribune Writer

In her retirement she never retired, serving on the board of a half-dozen foundations. She was an advocate for women and children, determined to share her creativity and unconditional love.

Mom's Publicity Photo

Shirley Riley-Davis

February 4th, 1935 – June 15th 2013


6 thoughts on “Black Herstory: Shirley Riley-Davis, 1st African-American Clio Winner

  1. I had the greatest of pleasures to have worked with Shirley back at NW Ayer in NYC. In the early 1970’s and become a dear friend. Our Birthdays were just 2 days apart (Feb 2nd for me) We were part of an inner circle of NW Ayer people that had close friendships. I will alway remember her with a great big smile on her face. It could….no it did…light up the room. I can understand the lose as the first anniversary approaches in June. Terri you did a wonderful job of expressing your love to your Mom…and this very special lady. Holding her in your thoughts is “The next best thing to being there”
    Warm regards. George Tenne (NW Ayer 1969 to1974.)

    • OMG! George, mom loved you to bits. Thank you so much for writing this. My heart is so broken not having her here in body, but her spirit is strong everywhere I go.

    • Thank you Don. It was hard to write but I needed to do it. I miss her terribly as I am sure you do too. I’ll be back in Chicago when it’s warm this summer. It will be nice to see you! xo

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