Ralph Roberts, founder of media giant Comcast Corp., passed away June 18. The media titan and longtime Philadelphian was 95.
His legacy began in 1963 when Roberts bought a 1,200-subscriber television system in Tupelo, Miss., an event which ultimately led to the creation of Comcast. Today, the conglomerate, which also owns NBC/Universal, reaches more than 27.2 million subscribers. Roberts was the past president and chairman emeritus of the company at the time of his passing. In 1990, he passed the presidency to his son and current CEO, Brian L. Roberts.
“He was the greatest influence in my life and a joy for me to work side by side with for over three decades,” Roberts told The Philadelphia Inquirer. “I speak for all of us when I say he will be greatly missed.”
Roberts was born in New York to a Jewish family and lived in Elkins Park for many years with his wife Suzanne, the namesake of the Suzanne Roberts Theatre on Broad Street. They celebrated their 70th wedding anniversary in 2012.
He was given many honors and awards throughout his life, including the Americanism Award by the Anti-Defamation League and the Brotherhood Award by the National Conference of Christians and Jews, according to his biography on Comcast’s website.
His entrepreneurial spirit bloomed at an early age and stayed with him as he owned and sold companies such as Pioneer Suspenders, which sold men’s accessories, before pioneering Comcast and its successes in 1969.
Known for his soft-spoken and respectful nature and always sporting a bowtie, Roberts’ passing has affected many in the Comcast community. He cultivated a welcoming culture for the cable television company — the largest in the nation — according to many of its employees.
Roberts “was always ‘Ralph’ to his rank-and-file employees, and a great listener who always checked his ego at the door,” Sheldon M. Bonovitz, a Comcast board member since 1979 and Roberts’ legal advisor, told the Inquirer. “I cannot remember a time during our relationship where a cross word passed between us. When I think of Ralph, it is always with the utmost affection.”
Roberts attended Germantown High School and received his bachelor’s degree in economics from the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania.
He is survived by his wife, four children —sons Brian and Ralph Jr. and daughters Catherine Clifton and Lisa Roberts — and eight grandchildren. His son Douglas passed away in 2011.