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Monday, August 24, 1992 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Outspoken Pioneer Mari Brattain Made Advertising Women's Work

The time was 1931, a time when women made dinner and babies, when advertising really was an old boys' network. Mari Brattain was 22, freshly graduated from college. Outspoken and brash, she decided to ignore conventions and plunge into advertising. She became one of the first female account executives on the West Coast.

She devoted her energy to women's rights and was a lifelong member of Women in Communications Inc., a national group of professional women. After 50 years of achievement, the group decided to honor Miss Brattain. They gave her a whoopee cushion.

Miss Brattain died August 17. She was 83.

She never married or had children, and threw her passion into journalism and advertising. She had a stern face and twinkling eyes and is remembered as a woman who was a little rough around the edges, who had a heart of gold.

"I was actually a little terrified of her," said Barbara Krohn, whom Miss Brattain mentored. "She was so direct, so forthright."

Miss Brattain always spoke her mind and loved heated debates, especially on politics or women's issues.

"Back then, women had to work three times as hard to make half the salary as men," said Anne Hecker, former national president of Women in Communications.

"She thought everybody ought to be paid according to their worth. She was very ahead of her time, that's how she brought prominence to women," Hecker said.

In 1933, Miss Brattain became the local president of Women in Communications, which now boasts about 1,200 members nationwide. Brattain started the annual Matrix Table, a banquet to honor professional women.

In 1963, the group honored Miss Brattain as woman of the year in advertising.

Miss Brattain was born March 14, 1909, in Spokane. She grew up on a wheat farm in Eastern Washington until her family moved to Mercer Island. She graduated from Roosevelt High School in 1927 and studied journalism at the University of Washington.

In college, she was a reporter for The Daily and was known for her tenacity.

"I remember her for her determination and forthrightness," said college friend Margaret Newcombe. "Mari always spoke her mind."

After graduation, Miss Brattain headed for advertising and worked long, sometimes frustrating, hours.

She worked at what was then Kraft, Smith and Lowe for about 50 years as an account executive. In 1974, she retired as media director, said her friend Barbara Krohn.

A few years later, the firm wanted her back. Miss Brattain worked until she retired again in 1982.

She made headlines the same year when Seattle advertising executive, David Stern, announced he was hiring "mature" people over age 65. He hired Miss Brattain, then 73.

But a month later, on Christmas eve, a car accident shattered 38 bones in Miss Brattain's body. She never fully recovered and lived the rest of her life in much pain.

Miss Brattain is survived by a brother, H. Robert Brattain of Monterey, Calif.; two nephews, William Brattain of Portland, Ore., and Fred Brattain, of Davis, Calif., and a niece, Joanne Brattain Hohos, of San Ramon, Calif.

Brattain's brother, Walter Brattain, a 1965 Nobel Prize winner, died in 1987.

A service was held Saturday. Remembrances may be made to the Mari Brattain Women in Communications Scholarship for Women in Advertising, 603 Stewart St., Suite 610, Seattle, WA 98101.

Copyright (c) 1992 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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