Ralph Joel Roberts, cable television tycoon and Comcast creator, died on June 18, 2015 at the age of 95. In a statement for The New York Times, his son, current CEO of Comcast Brian Roberts, describes him as “the most optimistic man [he] ever knew” and as having “a will to succeed […] with certain core values and integrity.” The family stated that, “he was a wonderful husband, father and grandfather and perhaps most importantly, a kind and humble human being.” Others who worked with Roberts remember him for his “kindness and respect” as well as his “friendship and generosity,” as cited by CNN. Though Roberts built Comcast, a company now worth $147.8 billion and ranking #46 on the Forbes Global 2000 List, from the ground up, he once sited his greatest accomplishments as his continued close relationships with all of his children.
Born on March 13, 1920 in New York, Ralph Roberts was the son of Russian Jewish immigrant Robert Max Roberts who made his name in the pharmaceutical industry with a small local chain. When his father died and his mother moved the family to the Germantown area of Philadelphia, the Pennsylvania capital became his business base.
Like his father, Roberts was an entrepreneur in spirit and kept an eye out for cutting edge product investments as soon as he graduated from the University of Pennsylvania. After dabbling in golf club sales and the background music industry, Roberts went into men’s retail. By 1961 he owned Pioneer Suspender Company, which he sold in 1961 to form the International Equity Corp. with Dan Aaron and Julian Brodsky. Together they purchased the American Cable Systems, a 1200-subscriber communications and broadcasting corporation based out of Tulepo, Mississippi.
Roberts changed the company’s name to Comcast, a combination of the words communication and broadcasting. It has been the single largest U.S. cable provider since 2001, providing cable to a sixth of the nation’s households. Comcast now owns Xfinity, NBCUniversal, various professional sports holdings, and venture capital funds.
A pioneer in the U.S. cable industry, Roberts was a key player in creating the array of internet and television choices that many Americans are able to enjoy today. He is quoted as having said that, “cable television is a pure, unadulterated demonstration of what can be done in America. We’ve taken a great idea and in one generation created an industry and made it available to over 90% of American homes.” Roberts’s success story as the hard-working immigrant’s son epitomizes the American dream.
Roberts is succeeded by his wife of 70 years, Suzanne Fleisher, as well as four of their children and eight grandchildren.