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Sandra Werth Harbrecht Ratchford, who left a successful teaching career to become one of the most respected strategic communications executives in the country, died on June 18 after a courageous battle with cancer. She was 73.
Sandy was born in Minneapolis, MN, on April 2, 1950, to Paul and Margaret Werth. Her love of children and her passion for imparting knowledge led her to Kent State University, from which she graduated with a bachelor’s degree in special and elementary education. As a public school teacher in the Worthington City Schools, she was the recipient of the Jennings Award, presented triennially for outstanding teaching in Ohio.
Just as Sandy was considering a career move to public school administration, her father – Founder, President, and CEO of Paul Werth Associates – asked her to assist with his growing public relations firm. Although she felt ill-prepared for the world of public relations, she was persuaded by then-Ohio State University Professor Roger Blackwell to take her father’s offer seriously. Sandy joined the firm in 1983.
She began to cultivate important relationships that would serve her well in the years to come, including connections with three female owners of nationally known firms who became mentors and friends. With the help of supportive business leaders, she also learned to navigate Columbus’s male-dominated networks and establish herself as a capable and thoughtful strategist in her own right. Upon Paul’s retirement in 1986, Sandy became president and – even he acknowledged – quickly led the firm beyond where he had dreamed it could go. Now celebrating its 60th year in business, Werth is the only Columbus-based strategic communications firm operating in 1963 that remains under the same family ownership.
Throughout her career, Sandy was a sought-after counselor to executives from every type of organization and industry. She served as a sounding board for new ideas, a trusted advocate for clients both on and off the clock, and as a calm and rational mind during times of crisis.
Sandy believed that reputation was the most important asset any organization or individual could possess, and she lived and worked accordingly. Although she had personal views on a range of issues, she was deliberately apolitical in her professional life. This, she believed – and proved time and again – allowed her to do impactful work on important community issues such as education, environment and health that affected everybody regardless of party affiliation.
Sandy respected the opinions of others and actively sought them out. She demanded excellent work, ethical practices, and adherence to “The Werth Way.” Her ability to listen and effectively model her values made her a mentor to countless men and women, both in her professional role and as a friend and confidante. Her leadership resulted in Werth winning 10 Silver Anvils — the industry’s highest recognition for outstanding public relations practice.
Although Sandy loved Paul Werth Associates, the biggest love of her life was husband Robin Ratchford. The two met in December 2007 at one of Werth’s famous holiday parties. Robin proposed to Sandy a year later at the 2008 holiday party. And they were married in June 2009, with the reception held at the Columbus Club – the site of their first meeting.
Sandy felt a special affinity to her alma mater, Kent State University, and served the institution in important ways throughout her career, including as a member and chair of the Kent State Board of Trustees and chair of the Presidential Search Committee. She was proud to have given the university’s 2009 commencement address and, besides being recognized by the university’s alumni association for her service, received the 2022 College of Education, Health and Human Services Centennial Alumni Award.
In addition to her undergraduate degree from Kent State, Sandy earned a Masters of Education degree and an MBA, both from The Ohio State University. She was also an accredited member of the Public Relations Society of America(PRSA).
Sandy’s volunteer and board work was extensive. She was past chair of PRSA’s Counselors Academy and a founding member of the PR Council. She also chaired the External Advisory Council for the College of Engineering at The Ohio State University and was a member of the university’s President’s Alumni Advisory Council and the Dean’s Advisory Council for Fisher College of Business.
She served on the boards of Encova Insurance and the Davey Tree Company, and was the immediate past president of the Columbus Club. She was a trustee of the Ingram/White Castle Foundation and chair of the Arvin Alexander Fund of The Columbus Foundation.
Sandy was a member of the Junior Achievement Business Hall of Fame, a 2017 Columbus CEO Magazine CEO of the Year, and a recipient of The Ohio State University Fisher College of Business Pace Setter Alumni Award for distinguished community service.
Besides Robin, Sandy is survived by a sister, Linda Chupp; stepson Chris Ratchford; niece Julie (Mike) Granillo; nephew Adam (Larissa) Chupp; step-grandson Ryan Ratchford; three grandnephews: Paul and Calvin Granillo, and Arden Chupp; and extended family members in California. She was preceded in death by her parents, her brother Bill Kelly, and stepson Devon Ratchford.
Services will be at 11 a.m. June 30th at Broad Street Presbyterian Church, 760 E. Broad St., Columbus. Sandy’s wish was that, in lieu of flowers, donations be made to the Sandra Werth Ratchford Memorial Fund at The Columbus Foundation, https://columbusfoundation.org/checkout/details?PortraitId=4629&PortraitType=Fund&FromSearch=True, or other charity of the giver’s choice.