Remembering Ralph Roberts

By Paul Maxwell Report Archives
Cover image for  article: Remembering Ralph Roberts

Ralph Roberts was one of the good guys. Along with Bill Daniels, Bill Brazeal, J. C. Sparkman, Irving Kahn and Bill Bresnan he was always ready to lend a guiding hand to those of us who were (in the late 1960s, some years after Ralph bought his first system in Tupelo Mississippi) new to the industry. I remember Ralph with special fondness as he accepted my early long-haired, hippie journalist persona, inviting me (off the record) to join his annual dinner with his top guys, including the late Dan Aaron (who had been the selling negotiator in Tupelo) and the great Julian Brodsky, his financiers and, after a couple dinners, Brian, too. I was privileged to learn a lot that way.

The consummate gentleman, Ralph exuded class.  Not that he wasn’t a tough negotiator (just ask Barry Diller how good he was), but he was always, and I mean always, gracious whether winning big or sometimes losing.  Comcast is, to state the obvious, huge today.  As with other pioneers in the cable universe, Ralph kept looking forward.  Small defeats, such as with Disney and recently with TWC, really didn’t faze Ralph (or Brian).  The ability to recognize reality, step back, regroup and keep charging is not the norm.  But Comcast has made it their norm.  Despite some recurring tensions between Pennsylvania and Colorado, the pioneers of cable have truly built something unique … and along the way changed course to keep ahead of the chopping block.

Cable has, in the Cable Center’s way of looking at things, three generations of innovation.  Ralph was a driving part of all three. And one of nicest, courtliest and interesting folks I ever met over the past almost 50 years.

A few years ago, right after finally persuading Brian to take over (though I don’t think for a moment Brian did anything without talking it through with Ralph) we were at an NBC event in Los Angeles that was scattered all over a theme park.  My daughter Cody (then the Kable Kid) and I were wandering up one part of the park when she spied Ralph sitting with Adam under a small tent with, believe it or not, no one else close.  In a beeline, Cody approached Ralph and asked if she could talk with him awhile.  He smiled and gestured and rose to help her sit.  Over the next few hours they chatted away, often interrupted for periods by others paying their respects to Ralph … who never forgot.

From that time on, whenever Cody was at a cable show, Ralph would find her to pick up the chatting for a few minutes.  It’s a tradition carried on by his son.

A good man is gone.  Sad.  But, boy did he ever make a mark. He’ll be missed.  And I know a whole lot of us learned something from him.

In Other Items of Interest:

Well, I haven’t found any others this week other than the long expected shift of the lifeline service to broadband over the regular objections.  And, now that I think about it, how some things never change.  God help the folks in Charleston and all over the USA.

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