Edward A. Trahan

Advertising Executive Was Nationally Acclaimed For His Work With Sports Teams, Auto Companies And Food Businesses

August 01, 2009|By Frederick N. Rasmussen | Frederick N. Rasmussen,fred.rasmussen@baltsun.com

Edward Adolph Trahan, former chairman of Trahan, Burden & Charles Inc., a Baltimore advertising agency, who was the first in the ad industry nationally to use the Muppets in a TV commercial, died of cancer July 24 at his Lady Lake, Fla., home. He was 83.

Mr. Trahan, whose name was pronounced "Tray-han," was born and raised in Detroit.

When he was 3 years old, he got his left arm caught in a wringer washing machine, and doctors were forced to amputate, said a grandson, Jessie Trahan, who is director of graduate school marketing at Towson University.

"It didn't stop him from playing high school softball, and it says a lot about who Ed was," said Allan Charles, founding partner of Trahan, Burden & Charles.

His wife of 20 years, the former Linda Seidel, said, "He was captain of his high school tennis team and played football at Michigan State."

After dropping out of Michigan State University, he went to work as a reporter for the Huron County Tribune in Bad Axe, Mich., and then joined the advertising firm of Campbell-Ewald in Warren, Mich., where he started by handling the Chevrolet account.

Early in his career, Mr. Trahan produced the Detroit Lions' weekly football show and several other local television programs.

"They were live TV commercials back in those days when he started, and they were always of a very high quality," Mr. Charles said.

In 1955, he began his 23-year career with W.B. Doner & Co. in Detroit as director of radio and television, and then transferred to Baltimore that year in the same capacity.

Mr. Trahan's responsibilities included working as a TV producer for several professional teams and sporting events, including the Orioles, Colts, Washington Senators and golf tournaments.

When Jim Henson, a puppeteer, was a student at the University of Maryland, College Park during the 1950s, his creations, which he called Muppets, were discovered by Mr. Trahan, who quickly recognized their advertising potential.

In 1957, Mr. Trahan made the decision to use a Muppet in a TV commercial he was producing for Wilkins Coffee.

"It was the first time the Muppets were used in a TV commercial," recalled Mr. Charles, who began his advertising career during Mr. Trahan's heyday at Doner. "Those commercials kept on running until the 1960s."

Mr. Trahan was executive vice president and a member of the Doner board when he joined Mathis, Burden & Charles as president and a partner in 1979.

In 1982, the firm changed its name to Trahan, Burden & Charles Inc., after the departure of James D. Mathis.

During his seven-year tenure at the firm, he played a major role in doubling the agency's size from 25 employees to 50, and expanded its annual billings from $6 million to $28 million.

Major clients of Mr. Trahan's included the Orioles, Colts, McDonald's, Esskay and Schmidt Baking Co.

After his 1985 retirement, he remained as a consultant to the firm.

"Ed was one of the original Mad Men of advertising and the ultimate Baltimore advertising man. Even though he was a giant in the Baltimore advertising community, he was also nationally known," said Mr. Charles.

"He was incredibly gifted: a writer, producer and account guy who handled all facets of advertising," he said. "He was tremendously creative but also a business guy. He fought for his clients, and he fought for the agency."

Mr. Charles recalled a slogan that Mr. Trahan kept on his desk which summed up his business philosophy: "The only true test of great advertising is the ringing of the cash register."

Mr. Allen praised his former partner's sense of humor.

"It was very disarming," said Mr. Charles, laughing. "When he joined the agency as partner, he said, 'We now have three partners and five arms.' "

The former longtime Towson resident was a member of the Towson Golf & Country Club, where he enjoyed playing golf.

"Ed liked to say that he became the 'second-best one-armed golfer at the club.' Ray Bevans, a retired attorney, was the other," Mr. Charles said.

Since 1989, he had lived in Lady Lake, where he was a member of Harbor Hills Country Club.

Private memorial services to be held in Lady Lake and Baltimore were incomplete yesterday.

Also surviving are two sons, Charles Trahan of Paradise, Texas, and Daniel Trahan of Ocala, Fla.; a daughter, Kathryn Trahan of Jacksonville, Fla.; a sister, Kathryn Jones of Clinton, Ark.; four grandchildren; and seven great-grandchildren. Three earlier marriages ended in divorce.

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