Whether with family, advertising colleagues or friends, Joe Culligan lived life with energy, enthusiasm and an emphasis on soaking in the moment.
It’s no wonder hundreds of people were drawn to join a New Orleans-style jazz band for and quarter-mile parade Wednesday along Summit, St. Paul’s most glorious of avenues, Culligan’s ashes along for the unbridled celebration.
Culligan, a former Navy officer in the 1960s, died on Flag Day, June 14, from lung disease. He was 73.
“Joe was a charming, warm, well read, loyal, funnier than hell professional Irishman,” said Pat Fallon, who employed Culligan for many years and also counted him as a close friend. “In my view, he raised the bar for all Irish in St. Paul.”
Culligan handled some of Fallon’s largest and most well known clients, among them Magnavox, Federal Express, Time magazine and Jim Beam.
“When Cully went to [visit] clients or out to speak in our behalf, I always knew Fallon would be represented with class and with wit,” Fallon said. “I counted on him. I was never let down. [He] might have been our single greatest brand ambassador.”
And his loyalty to the firm was unmatched, Fallon noted.
“He literally bled for this company,” Fallon said. “In fact, everyone in his immediate family worked at Fallon at one time or another — wife and all three kids. ... And his family was the center of his life.”
Seamus Culligan said his father’s send-off was pure New Orleans, right down the sultry atmosphere of a warm and humid afternoon.
“We carried him [in] a box down Summit all the way to the University Club” from the College of Visual Arts building, where Joe Culligan was president, the younger Culligan said.
“Kids had horns, and we had flags. We had shots of Dewar’s,” Seamus Culligan added. “He wanted a straight-up rockin’ party, and he got it.”
There must have been 400 people in the throng by the time the several-block jaunt was over, many of them young.
“It was a full force of kids,” Seamus Culligan said. “When I usually go to funerals, it’s old people waiting in line.”
Culligan left the Martin Williams agency in 1985 for Fallon and remained there until his retirement in 2001.
Two years later, he was named president of the College of Visual Arts, a position he held for four years. The school, until it closed under financial trouble this month, offered bachelor’s degrees in fashion design, fine arts, graphic design, illustration and photography.
“Joe loved to mentor and coach young people,” Fallon recalled. “No matter what his age, his spirit remained young.”
Francis Joseph Culligan was born in 1940, graduated from St. Thomas Academy in 1958, the University of Notre Dame in 1962 and served his country in the mid-1960s as a lieutenant (junior grade).
Culligan is survived by his wife of 44 years, Molly; sons Seamus and Duffy; daughter Courtney Vincent; brother John; and sisters Molly and Margaret. Memorials are preferred to St. Thomas Academy.