Chris Battle, public relations trendsetter, dies after 4-year cancer fight

National Press Club member Chris Battle, a public relations innovator, former newspaper editorial writer, and an accomplished political spokesman, died at 8 a.m. Thursday after a four-year fight against kidney cancer. He was 45.

Mr. Battle, of Alexandria, Va., died at his parents' home near Savannah, Ga., surrounded by his parents and wife, Dena Battle. He is also survived by two young children, Kate and Josie.

"We're grateful that he's no longer in pain," Dena said in a note to friends on Thursday. "We're also grateful to all of you who have surrounded us with love and support during this four year battle."

Mr. Battle helped create professional development programs for public relations professionals and communicators at the National Press Club. He was a key player in developing the "Get PR Smart" program, which began in 2009 and continues today. In 2010, after his cancer diagnosis, he led a critical workshop in the fledgling series, “Shooting Straight: Practicing Direct Public Relations.”

At the time of his death, Mr. Battle was a partner at the pioneering public relations firm Adfero Group, where he was known for using new technologies to deliver his clients' messages, mentoring young communicators and crafting masterful press releases. As a leading authority on homeland security, he created and contributed regularly to Security Debrief, an influential homeland security blog, NPC member Jeff Mascott, managing director of Adfero, said.

"Chris demonstrated an intense work ethic unlike any I’d seen," Mascott said. "Even in the midst of his painful treatments, Chris never stopped serving clients and mentoring our staff. Most importantly, Chris was a great friend who made all of us richer through his wit and wisdom."

Prior to joining Adfero in January 2007, Mr. Battle managed former Rep. Asa Hutchinson's campaign for Arkansas governor.

In 2003, Mr. Battle helped stand up the fledgling Department of Homeland Security, where he served as the first chief of staff and communications director for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. At the Drug Enforcement Administration from 2001 to 2003, Mr. Battle directed communications and public affairs.

On Capitol HIll, Mr. Battle worked for then-Rep. Asa Hutchinson, R-Ark., as deputy chief of staff and communications director from 1997 to 2000.

Mr. Battle, a graduate of the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville, also served as editorial page director and editor writer for the Arkansas Democrat Gazette from 2000 to 2001.

It was artful, poetic writing, however, that Mr. Battle carried from job to job and finally, to his widely read account of his progressing illness, "The Kidney Cancer Chronicles."

"Chris was a consummate communicator who was much more than a master of the written word; he was a student of the art and science of communications, constantly learning new and better ways to package and distribute his client’s messages," Mascott said. "Few people could discover and integrate new technologies into an overall strategic communications plan as effectively as Chris did. And even fewer could do so with such colorful and creative language."

Mr. Battle wrote with humor and pathos in his essays about coping with the kidney cancer that eventually spread to his lungs. He spared no detail of the agonies and indignities of aggressive cancer treatment, but laced them with his trademark observations of the absurd and always, a healthy punchline.

'Who else could make you laugh and cry at the same time as you read Chris’ detailed descriptions of his agonizing treatment regime as he went from one protocol to the next in search of a cure to his nefarious disease?" Mascott said. "It was Chris’ selfless gift of humor that helped us as friends and family cope with his struggle even as he tried to make the best of challenging situation."

In a May 14, 2011 post entitled "Always Tip Your Phlebotomist," Mr. Battle explained his tendency to faint at the sight of blood and wrote with a gracious turn of phrase about his encounter with a phlebotomist with the magic touch.

"Thus, I must give a shout-out to Sir Robert, my phlebotomist at Johns Hopkins," Mr. Battle wrote. "He drops a needle into your vein as effortlessly as dipping a ladle into melted butter. It is almost unnoticeable. I don’t think enough patients really appreciate the value of a skilled phlebotomist."

The family asked that, in lieu of flowers, donations be made toward kidney cancer research at Johns Hopkins Sidney Kimmel Cancer Center, where Battle was treated. Donations made specifically in honor of Chris Battle will direct funds to Dr. Hans Hammers' kidney cancer's research, which had been instrumental in prolonging Mr. Battle's life, his wife said.

Information about a memorial service is forthcoming.