On a December morning in 1967, Minnesotans woke up to a different, but familiar voice doing advertising voice-overs for Twin Cities Federal Savings and Loan. The voice belonged to Jack Benny, who was brought to the airwaves by Minneapolis ad man Ray Foley.
Foley died last month at the Waverly Gardens Care Center in North Oaks, the city where he was once mayor. He was 93.
When Foley landed Benny for the TCF spots, it was an endorsement coup by the standards of the day. Benny didn’t do commercials for savings institutions — until Foley persuaded Benny’s agent that it would be a good marriage since Benny was known for his thriftiness and TCF was about saving money with its slogan ”Tuckabuckadayaway.”
“He was assertive, outgoing and not afraid to talk to people,” Tom Foley said of his dad.
Born into Hungarian and Irish heritage, Foley was a product of both “The Greatest Generation” and “Mad Men.” Foley grew up in a small south Minneapolis home with his parents and six siblings. Early on, Foley showed a knack for getting access to the famous when he landed an interview with presidential hopeful Thomas Dewey at the old Nicollet Hotel for a story that ran in the Roosevelt High School student newspaper in 1939.
Later Foley became a collector of autographs from sports and entertainment celebrities, including Bob Hope, Judy Garland, Clark Gable, Herbert Hoover and Jack Dempsey.
Foley was drafted into the Army in 1942. During basic training, Foley contracted pneumonia, was hospitalized and missed his unit’s deployment to Europe, where his colleagues fought in the Battle of the Bulge. As his commanding officers decided what to do with a recovered Foley, the Minneapolis man said, “I can type,” and got an office job for the rest of the war. After he was discharged, Foley went to the University of Minnesota on the GI Bill and earned a degree in public relations, which led Foley into advertising.
One of Foley’s first jobs was at the Minneapolis agency Pidgeon Savage Lewis [PSL], where he started working on the TCF account. PSL was acquired by Colle+McVoy in 1965, and Foley rose to the top of the executive ranks, eventually serving as agency president.
Part of Foley’s responsibilities with the TCF account included handling sponsorship duties with the Twins, Vikings and North Stars, plus the University of Minnesota and state high school leagues. Foley helped develop the “Benchwarmer Bob” Lurtsema franchise and put stars such as football legend Fran Tarkenton in TCF ads.
Foley moved to North Oaks in 1963. Foley served on the North Oaks City Council from 1977 until 1988, including two terms as mayor. He liked to brag that he received more votes for mayor in North Oaks in 1984 than another North Oaks resident at the time, Walter Mondale, received for president.
“He was a very forgiving man. I never saw him mad,” Tom Foley said. “People were always coming to him for advice — neighbors, friends, family members.”
Tom Foley said his dad was a high-handicap golfer but was also someone who loved the game and carded two holes in one as a member of the North Oaks Golf Club.
As a member of the Minneapolis Jaycees, Foley helped organize and name the first Minneapolis Aquatennial.
Foley retired in 1986 and moved to Palm Desert, Calif., but returned to Minnesota 25 years later to spend the rest of his days in his home state.
Foley was preceded in death by Gini, his wife of 53 years, brothers Jim and Phil and sisters Mary Rose and Kathleen. He is survived by sons Greg, Mark and Tom, brother Ed, sister Jeanette, four grandchildren and one great-grandchild.