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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Monday, November 28, 2005

Publicist, activist Eileen Mortenson, 62

By Wanda A. Adams
Assistant Features Editor

Eileen Jane Cernansky Mortenson, publicist, teacher and community activist, died Friday of cancer at her Kane'ohe home. She was 62.

Mortenson was diagnosed with cancer a year ago and, after a round of chemotherapy proved ineffective, chose to discontinue treatment in favor of time with friends and family and her beloved dog, Gizmo. She told friends she felt no need to travel and had nothing left on her "must do" list. With her family visiting throughout the summer and fall, she said: "I've got everything I want here."

Neighbors at Kauhale Beach Cove held a fundraiser for her and, as she fell ill, helped with household chores. Friends organized a reception for her last August at Indigo restaurant, donning "I'm a Friend of Eileen" name tags.

Mortenson had lived on O'ahu for most of the past 26 years. She was founder of Eileen Mortenson Communications and Eileen Mortenson Associates Public Relations, the publisher of two media directories, and, for 24 years, taught a University of Hawai'i class in public relations that helped train a generation of professionals. She also acted as state coordinator for the National Organization for Women and worked for the state Legislature and Rep. Barbara Marumoto R-17th (Kahala, Wai'alae Iki).

Marumoto recalled Mortenson as "a trusted aide" who was at her side in many legislative battles, particularly those concerning women's and children's issues. She praised her friend's integrity, recalling a time when Mortenson fired her major client over a point of ethical principle.

"She always gave you straight advice," Marumoto said.

Broadcaster Don Rockwell, who worked at KITV when Mortenson produced and hosted a talk show there, said: "She was very blunt with her clients and blunt with her friends, too. You could count on her to always tell you the truth."

Longtime friend and client, salon owner Paul Brown, said Mortenson helped him develop and refine a successful marketing plan.

In the last months of her life, she continued to contribute by acting as a trainer and mentor to his marketing staff. "We miss her already," Brown said.

Mortenson's residence in Hawai'i was interrupted by a brief return to Chicago, where she had lived before moving here, and two sojourns in Alaska, a place she deeply loved. She covered the Iditarod for The Advertiser one year, and wrote a number of pieces on Alaska for the newspaper's travel section.

Mortenson was born in Pittsburgh on Feb. 1, 1943.

She attended Marquette University, and after moving to Chicago in the 1960s, she became the Illinois representative to the White House Special Action Office for Drug Abuse Prevention. She eventually went to work for Dr. Jerome Jaffe, the first "drug czar" under President Nixon. Mortenson lived in Washington, D.C., from 1973 until 1979, advising states on national drug policies.

In 1979, eager to move on after a divorce, Mortenson decided to join a friend in driving cross-country in a van to Alaska, said her sister, Marion Cernansky. There, Mortenson would find a love of her life in the wild landscape and the Eskimo people. She joined the Civil Air Patrol and always spoke glowingly of flying: "It's the freedom. You really have to slip the bonds of earth and you're up there and it's just you and the sky," she said shortly before her death.

After the 49th state, Mortenson decided to try the 50th, re-establishing connections with an old Marquette classmate here and working in public relations for a number of firms, including Halekulani Hotel. She also realized a long-held dream in completing her college degree, receiving her bachelor's degree with honors from Chaminade University in 1981.

Mortenson is survived by brothers Charles "Chuck" Cernansky and Donald Cernansky of Chicago; sister Marion Cernansky of Washington, D.C.; niece Christina Cernansky; and nephew Peter Cernansky.

A celebration of Mortenson's life is planned for midday Dec. 10 in Honolulu, with place and other details to be announced.

Reach Wanda A. Adams at wadams@honoluluadvertiser.com.