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Ralph J. Roberts
Roberts in a 2000 interview
Roberts in a 2000 interview
Born (1920-03-13)March 13, 1920
New York City, New York
Died June 18, 2015(2015-06-18) (aged 95)
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, US
Nationality United States
Occupation Businessman
Known for Founder of Comcast
Spouse(s) Suzanne Fleisher
  • Catherine Roberts
  • Lisa Roberts
  • Ralph Roberts, Jr.
  • Brian L. Roberts
  • Douglas Roberts (deceased)

Ralph Joel Roberts (March 13, 1920 – June 18, 2015) was an American businessman who was the founder of Comcast, serving as its chief executive officer for 46 years. In 2011 he served as founder and chairman emeritus of Comcast's board of directors until his death.

Early life and education[edit | edit source]

Roberts was born on March 13, 1920 in New York City. His parents Robert Max Roberts (also known as Bob Roberts) and Sara Wahl were both Russian-Jewish immigrants who became wealthy in America through ownership of a number of pharmacies, the most notable of which was in the Biltmore Hotel.[1] When Roberts was five the family moved to New Rochelle, New York and then after his father died of a heart-attack, to Germantown, Philadelphia when he was seventeen to live with his stepfather Harry Bobrow, of Bobrow Brothers Cigars.[2][3] Roberts graduated from the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania and served a four-year tour of duty in the United States Navy.[4]

Career[edit | edit source]

After leaving the Navy, he held various jobs, first selling golf clubs, then working for the Muzak Company, and later the Pioneer Suspender Company which he eventually owned. Using the proceeds from Pioneer, he started purchasing local community antenna television systems which brought TV to people in rural areas,[2] which were then underserved by big broadcasters. In 1963, he and his partners, Daniel Aaron and Julian A. Brodsky, purchased for $500,000, a 1,200-subscriber cable TV operator in Tupelo, Mississippi, called American Cable Systems.[5] They incorporated in 1969 as Comcast Corporation, a name Roberts invented by combining the words communications and broadcasting.[2] Roberts has been credited with expanding Comcast into the largest cable television company in the United States.[6]

Philanthropy and accolades[edit | edit source]

Roberts served on the boards of the Philadelphia Orchestra, the Brandywine River Museum, the Greater Philadelphia Urban Affairs Coalition, and the PENN Medicine Board of Trustees.[4] Roberts received awards from the National Cable and Telecommunications Association, the Walter Kaitz Foundation, the Anti-Defamation League of B'nai B'rith, The National Conference of Christians and Jews, the Urban League of Philadelphia, the Greater Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce, and the National Academy of Television Arts & Sciences.[4] He was awarded honorary degrees from both Holy Family College and the University of Pennsylvania, where he received their Joseph P. Wharton Award.[4] In 1998, the Broadcast Pioneers of Philadelphia inducted Roberts into their Hall of Fame.[7] The Suzanne F. and Ralph J. Roberts Foundation was one of the largest contributors to the restoration of the Alfred W. Fleisher Memorial Synagogue at Eastern State Penitentiary in Philadelphia named in the honor of his father-in-law.[8]

Personal life[edit | edit source]

In 1942, Roberts married Suzanne Fleisher,[9] who was also Jewish,[2] an actress and playwright, and daughter of philanthropist Alfred W. Fleisher.[10] Her name appears on the Suzanne Roberts Theatre in Philadelphia and she hosts a TV program aimed at seniors called "Seeking Solutions with Suzanne" on Comcast's CN8 network.[11] They had five children: Catherine, Lisa, Ralph Jr. (Rob), Brian, and Douglas (who died in 2011);[2] and eight grandchildren. Their son, Brian L. Roberts, is the current CEO of Comcast Corporation.[12][13]

Roberts made an appearance on TLC's reality series Cake Boss, receiving a cake for his 90th birthday. He died on June 18, 2015 of natural causes.[14][15]

References[edit | edit source]

  1. New York Times: "Ralph Roberts, Cable TV Pioneer Who Built Comcast, Dies at 95". Retrieved June 20, 2015
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 Kellie Patrick Gates (February 14, 2013). "Love: Suzanne (Fleisher) Roberts & Ralph J. Roberts". Philadelphia Inquirer. http://articles.philly.com/2013-02-14/news/37081674_1_suzanne-ralph-dance-floor. 
  3. Nathan Guttman (March 2, 2014). "Brian Roberts' Jewish Roots and Outsized Ambition Drive Comcast's Rise in Media". The Jewish Daily Forward. http://forward.com/articles/193521/brian-roberts-jewish-roots-and-outsized-ambition-d/?p=all. "Comcast was established in 1969 by Roberts’s father Ralph and his two Jewish partners, Daniel Aaron and Julian Brodsky" 
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 4.3 University of Pennsylvania Medicine: "About the Roberts". Retrieved November 25, 2013
  5. Meg James (February 13, 2013). "Comcast to own all of media giant". Los Angeles Times. http://www.latimes.com/entertainment/envelope/cotown/la-fi-ct-comcast-ge-20130213,0,4219576.story. 
  6. Glenn Rifkin (June 19, 2015). "Ralph Roberts, Cable TV Pioneer Who Built Comcast, Dies at 95". The New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/2015/06/20/business/media/ralph-roberts-cable-tv-pioneer-who-built-comcast-dies-at-95.html?ref=obituaries. 
  7. Broadcast Pioneers of Philadelphia: Our Hall of Fame. Retrieved November 25, 2013
  8. Eastern State Penitentiary: "Funders for the Synagogue Restoration". Retrieved February 19, 2014
  9. Steve Cohen (August 25–31, 2005). "Starring Role - From the boards to the funding, Suzanne Roberts lives for the stage.". Philadelphia City Paper. http://archives.citypaper.net/articles/2005-08-25/art.shtml. 
  10. "Howard Gerstley Fleisher, 95, Businessman and Active Volunteer". The Jewish Exponent. May 20, 2010. http://www.jewishexponent.com/howard-gerstley-fleisher,-95,-businessman-and-active-volunteer. 
  11. Daily Finance: "Comcast's Brian Roberts: The low-key exec who leads a high-profile giant" By Jonathan Berr December 5, 2009
  12. The Cable Center: "Cable Hall of Fame Archives - Ralph J. Roberts. Retrieved June 29, 2012
  13. "Top 50 Jews 2012: "Brian Roberts"". The Jewish Daily Forward. http://forward.com/specials/forward-50-2012/brian-roberts/. Retrieved December 25, 2012. 
  14. Everett Rosenfeld and Jacob Pramuk (June 19, 2015). "Comcast founder Ralph Roberts dies at 95". CNBC. https://www.cnbc.com/id/102773235. 
  15. Ralph J. Roberts, Comcast Corporation Founder and Chairman Emeritus, dies at age 95 Comcast Corporate Statement. Retrieved June 19, 2015

External links[edit | edit source]

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