Alumni Spotlight: Roger Pynn ’73
Newly Retired UCF Legend Reflects on Life, Career and His Passions
Written by Camille Dolan ’98
As the recipient of many honors throughout his career, Roger Pynn ’73 was never the sort who cared about the recognition that being in the limelight would bring. Rather, Pynn, a true leader and co-founder of public relations firm Curley & Pynn, has always been interested in advancing and celebrating his profession, and especially those who work in it.
“If you look through the membership directories of the local Public Relations Society of America and Florida Public Relations Association chapters and tap a name at random,” says Dan Ward ’92, President of Curley & Pynn, “Chances are that person is going to talk to you about the impact that Roger has had on their career.”
Pictured: Roger Pynn, Knightro, Dan Ward
Both professional organizations recently honored Pynn for his decades of service and mentorship. Last December, Pynn received the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) Orlando Regional Chapter’s Geri Evans Lifetime Achievement Award and, in February 2023, the Florida Public Relations (FPRA) Orlando Area Chapter honored him by renaming its annual award as the Roger Pynn, APR, CPRC Central Florida Public Relations Professional of the Year for Career Achievement.
The recognition left Pynn “shocked,” he says, despite more than 50 years in the industry.
Pynn announced his retirement last year and has since stepped away from the business he started in 1984. The many professionals Pynn has impacted throughout his career may be surprised to know he wasn’t always a titan of public relations industry. In fact, he almost never finished college.
Pynn and his family moved to Orlando from Massachusetts when he was 4. He and his brother, Manning, were raised by their mother and grandmother, and there were additional members of the community who also supported the family. The Pynn boys both wanted to go into journalism.
Pynn almost took a different path. At the time, the Vietnam War requested his enlistment in military services. During a routine physical, however, Pynn discovered that his hammer toes — an amusing name for a serious orthopedic condition — allowed him a draft deferment. Having hammer toes — where the toes curl due to an imbalance in the muscles, tendons or ligaments that normally hold the toes straight — prevents the long-distance marches that being in the military demands.
Since the military was no longer on the horizon, Pynn dropped out of college and decided to enter the workforce so he could save money and be less dependent on his mother and grandmother.
“Everybody helped us immensely, but we had to work,” Pynn says. “I worked at the Orlando Sentinel before I started at UCF. My brother was there first, and I followed him there.”
Pynn’s Early Influences
Pynn says his brother did not approve of him dropping out of school (Orlando Junior College) and used big-brother techniques to “inspire” Pynn.
“He said, ‘You blew it,’” Pynn recalls. “He piled on and told me that not only was I never going to go back to school, but that I would end up being an abject failure for the rest of my life, and never amount to anything.”
Pynn, who understood exactly what his brother had been trying to do, had other ideas. “I’m an I’ll-show-you kind of kid.” And then fate — colored black-and-gold — stepped in.
Pictured: Roger Pynn with Dr. Charles Millican and Ron Page
In the course of his work at the newspaper, Pynn was covering Charles Millican, the founding president of UCF, and the two became fast friends.
“He had said to me, if you’re ever ready to go back to school, let me know,” Pynn says.
When Pynn eventually called him, Millican introduced him to one of the professors who was the head of the communications track, and he was back in school two weeks later.
“I said at his memorial service (in 2010) that Dr. Millican was not only a role model but also a father to me,” Pynn says. “He was such an influence in my life.”
An unintended consequence of meeting Charles Millican was also meeting Shelley Kiefer ’74.
“Shelley and I got to know each other through our involvement in clubs at UCF,” Pynn says. The Civitan Club, especially, served as a foundation for the civic work that the couple would continue to foster their community involvement over the years.
Pictured: Roger and Shelley Pynn
“We are truly college sweethearts,” Pynn says. “We have had this incredible shared passion for volunteerism and performing acts of service for those in need. Not only did I get a great education from UCF, but I also got the greatest gal in the world.”
Pynn continued to work at the Sentinel throughout his time at UCF and had worked his way up to the police beat. He always figured himself to be a hard-news guy.
One day, though, he was given the assignment about a fish kill on the Maitland chain of lakes. The city editor told him to capture what it was doing to that little town.
Pynn may have grumbled. He was a hard-news guy, after all.
When he went to the boat launch in Maitland, he talked to a grandfather and his grandson, who were distraught over the fish that were dying. Pynn looked beyond the dead, floating fish and instead captured an even more incalculable loss: that of a grandfather who had taught his grandson the joy of fishing, and a way of life that was clearly at peril.
Pynn’s heartwarming article brought him his first writing award and let him know that perhaps there was more to journalism and communications than hard news.
Did you know? Pynn was instrumental in helping to create Knightro https://www.ucf.edu/pegasus/insiders-guide-ucfs-knight-rider/
When Pynn graduated in 1973, he was still working at the Orlando Sentinel, but knew he wanted to be in public relations. He had gotten to know one of the partners in an Orlando advertising agency — at the time, advertising and public relations were inextricably linked.
“He kept pitching stories to us all the time,” Pynn recalls. The agency partner had also basically watched Pynn grow up — they had lived down the street from each other.
“One day, he walked into the Sentinel offices and told me that I was going into public relations.”
The timing was perfect. Pynn began working for him a short time later and received a “massive” raise of $15 a week.
According to PRSA, “Public relations is a strategic communication process that builds mutually beneficial relationships between organizations and their publics.”
Did you know? Pynn was the recipient of a Golden Guild ring https://www.ucf.edu/pegasus/golden-guild/
Curley & Pynn & UCF
Pictured: the team at Curley & Pynn
Over the past five decades, Pynn built his career and his business through the management of many mutually beneficial relationships, but few are as special as the relationship Curley & Pynn has built with UCF.
“We’ve certainly never required that our employees have a UCF degree,” says Ward. “But it doesn’t hurt. We’ve always had a very strong internship program and have hired many interns from UCF and its Nicholson School of Communication and Media. They have a fantastic program, and we are fortunate that a lot of the grads want to come and work for us.”
Ward has been with the firm for about 28 years and in 2018 assumed ownership of the firm; he started working as a coordinator in a cubicle in the corner, “and just slowly worked my way up over time.”
Sometimes, like Ward, the employees stay and rise through the company ranks. Sometimes they leave Curley & Pynn and apply their public relations skills and “Five Steps to Professional Success” in new ways.
Chris Tomasso ’93, the CEO of First Watch and UCF Foundation board member, is a former Curley & Pynn employee; Brie Sachse ’03 is the VP and head of U.S. Government Affairs for Siemens; Cheryl Henry is president, CEO and chairwoman of the Board for Ruth’s Chris; Kim Stangle is COO of the Florida High Tech Corridor; Shirley Powell is senior VP of corporate communications and industry relations at Cox Automotive; Lorri Shaban is VP of strategic partnerships and development at CareerSource Central Florida, and the list goes on.
“I’m not much on pride,” Pynn says. It’s one of the aspects of his personality that caused him to be surprised when he learned he had won the Geri Evans award.
“I am proud of a lot of things, however,” Pynn continues. “I’m most proud of the people that we have hired and cultivated. I am very proud of the work that we’ve done in higher education, and I am honored that UCF chose me and our firm to represent it all these years. I love UCF with all my heart. Go Knights!”