In the late 1950s, she met Carl Proctor, who also worked in the music industry. They married and had a son, but the marriage broke down after several years. Around the same time, she lost her job at Vee-Jay and fell into a funk. “I stayed in the house for about 18 months and licked my wounds,” she said later.
Then she resolved to find work in advertising, a business she figured would teach her how to write more concisely. She learned to create punchy ads but clashed with some of her bosses. At one agency, she was asked to work on an ad making light of protest marches. “We had a hair-care product account and they wanted to have a demonstration in the streets with all the women running up and down waving these cans in the air, demonstrating for this product,” she told the Chicago Sun-Times. “I said that was demeaning and stupid and I wouldn’t do it. So, of course, I was fired.”
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That experience emboldened her to launch her own firm in 1970. She called it Proctor & Gardner, using her married and maiden names in the hope that people who didn’t trust a woman would think she had a male partner. Most of the firm’s assignments were for ads, public relations and events aimed at African-Americans.
She hoped eventually to expand beyond the African-American category. “I don’t see struggling along for the rest of my life on a minuscule share of the market,” she told the Chicago Tribune two years after founding her firm. “In one way or another I have to get into the mainstream of advertising.”
She managed to do some work for the broader market, said her son, Morgan Proctor, but the bulk of the business remained related to her minority niche.
Illinois Bell Telephone Co. appointed her to its board in the 1980s, and she was a frequent motivational speaker. “You can’t work like a dog and look like a doll 24 hours a day,” she told women at a 1991 conference in Cleveland. Women should take time out for themselves, she said: “M-E is OK.”
By the mid-1990s, her firm was losing clients to larger rivals. She filed for bankruptcy protection in 1995 and later formed another company focused on website design and internet marketing.
Ms. Proctor, who recently fractured a hip and had dementia, is survived by her son, a sister and two grandchildren.
“If someone were to tell me a glass ceiling was standing in my way,” she once said, “I would open a window, fly out and continue to soar.”