Mary Posner will tell you she has had four lives: as the girl growing up in Columbia, as the girl and woman who has spent every summer of her life at the family cabins in Minnesota and as a pioneering female executive in New York.
She has been living life number four for the past 27 years as one of the founders and the driving force behind Columbia’s Salute to Veterans Memorial Day Weekend Celebration.
Having enjoyed a successful 25-year career in public relations in New York City, Posner returned to Columbia in 1987 after the death of her father, Glenn McCleary, former dean of the University of Missouri School of Law.
Posner soon found herself in a position to follow some advice her father — a World War I veteran who had set an altitude record in a Curtis Jenny in 1918 — about showing appreciation to the military.
“One of the things my father had said to me was that I had enjoyed the corporate career that I had because of the brave men and women who had risked their lives so I could,” Posner said. “He told me, ‘Find a way to say thank you.’ ”
Upon returning to Columbia and discovering no special activities marked Memorial Day, Posner created the Salute to Veterans Memorial Day Weekend Celebration.
With the help of her late husband Alan Posner — who served six years as an air intelligence officer with the U.S. Navy — and friend and corporate attorney David Brydon, a former pilot, Posner has grown the event from a parade and two-plane flyover in 1989 to five days of activities, with a parade and free airshow, run by more than 3,000 volunteers.
The 2015 Salute to Veterans included appearances by the U.S. Army’s Golden Knights parachute team, the Canadian Forces Snowbirds demonstration team, the U.S. Navy’s Super Hornet “Flying Eagles” tactical demonstration team, the U.S. Marine Corps’ Bell Boeing V-22 Osprey, The Dawn Patrol WWI replicas, the Trojan Phlyers T-28 aerobatic demonstration team and the World War II BT-13 Vultee Valiant.
Despite her own hard work on the event over the years, Posner attributed the success of Salute to Veterans to her army of volunteers and support from the community.
“We couldn’t do what we do with this if people didn’t believe in it, love it, support it for all the right reasons,” she said.
Several lifetimes before she made Memorial Day into one of Columbia’s signature events, Posner spent 14 years at the University of Missouri Laboratory and High School. While there, she was active in everything from theater to cheerleading and also served as student body president.
“It was a unique education and a good one,” Posner said, noting all of her teachers held doctoral degrees. “My whole experience with it was you got a quality education in a mixed group of students.”
Although the school is no more, she keeps the connection up by helping to operate UHighLives, a website connecting alumni, faculty and staff.
Posner spent her first two years of post-secondary education at Ohio Wesleyan University (she was the fourth generation of the McCleary family to attend) before returning to Columbia to finish her undergraduate studies at Mizzou
Posner earned her master’s degree in fine arts at Indiana University, where she wrote her master’s thesis on Maude Adams, an actress and educator at Stephens College who was the first woman to play Peter Pan.
Posner moved to New York City not to make it big on Broadway, but rather in the board room. Posner said she had always wanted to go into the corporate world, “because that’s where the action is, in running things, and that’s what I like to do.”
Posner joined the public relations department of AT&T Long Lines as the only woman in her department who was not a secretary and became the first woman to move into management. She met her husband, Alan, while at AT&T.
Posner had gone as far as she could with the company and started as a junior account executive with Harshe-Rotman and Druck, where it took her only two years to be named senior vice president after bringing in ITT Corp., a $119 million corporation.
In 1978 she left Harshe-Rotman and Druck to join forces with her husband to create Posner-McCleary Inc., an international advertising, marketing, financial relations and consulting firm. One of their first accounts was Northrop Aviation, which designed the F/A-18 Hornet.
“I was standing on the tarmac of the Paris Air Show, and the designer of the F-18 was holding my hand when it flew for the first time,” she said.
After 25 years in New York, Posner returned home in 1987 after her father’s death because “my mother needed me.” By then, she and Alan were able to operate Posner-McCleary from anywhere they wanted.
“My father passed away,” and “it was time,” she said of her return. “They took care of me, and I took care of her.”
In addition to being responsible for the financials, fundraising and management of Salute to Veterans, Posner still runs Posner-McCleary Inc. She also serves on a number of corporate and family trust boards, including Empire District Electric Company as chairman of the audit committee and two United Missouri Banks. “I like what I do — even taxes,” she said, again citing her parents as the reason she likes to work so hard. “I credit everything I am and everything I’ve become to my parents.”
Asked if she intends to retire anytime soon, Posner said that word is not in her vocabulary.