But after reading the letter, Naftulin called Robert, concerned. Robert didn’t seem to be. “It’s all pie in the sky,” Robert told him. “He’s my brother. We work together. Do we have disagreements, like any other brothers in any other families? Yes. My brother is a guy who puts things on the table. He says it like it is. Do I agree with him? Not necessarily. It is what it is.”
But others who know the family well say the spat was not like the disagreements of other brothers in other families. “Robert and Lee never had a good relationship,” says a close family friend who’s known the pair since they were kids.
Growing up, they certainly couldn’t have been more different. Lee was the oldest, extremely smart but extremely shy. He’d gotten a job at Lincoln Bank back in the ’70s as part of a deal his father made (when Dan reneged on the deal, Lee was let go), then went on to run Royal Bank for 20 years. Even now, people who know him describe him as uptight, conservative, even dull. Robert, on the other hand, was the black sheep, but also the personable, handsome, fun-loving type. He managed several Tabas family businesses before being named a vice president at Royal, under Lee.
“There was a lot of backstabbing … a lot of jealousy between the two brothers,” says a source who worked with both years ago. “Their father played them against each other. You saw it.”
It was no secret that Lee and his father — the large and also larger-than-life family patriarch and Philadelphia legend Daniel Tabas — often didn’t see eye-to-eye. Sure, they bought Royal Bank together in 1980, and sure, Lee had the top title in the chain of command. But everyone knew it was Dan who called the shots.
“Dan was the entire force behind everything,” says George Fogwell, who started working for the Tabases as a busboy at the 1796 House, the restaurant at their Downingtown Motor Inn, in 1965 and has remained close to the family ever since. (It was Fogwell who drove Mickey Rooney from Downingtown to Judy Garland’s funeral in 1969.)
Dan was a notorious control freak, and not just with business. He controlled his family. “He made a lot of ‘suggestions,’ but to him, they were rules,” says someone who did business with Dan. The story goes that he told family members what to order at restaurants and how to decorate and where to buy their gas. He bought them enormous houses in his Haverford neighborhood — close enough to keep his hands on the reins. “It was always ‘Daddy this’ and ‘Daddy that,’” says a family friend, who wonders if the kids, or even wife Evelyn, could make a decision without asking Dan first.
Then, in 2003, Dan died. “I don’t know how they function without him,” says the friend. Four years before, Lee had announced he was retiring from his role as CEO of the bank. But once he was gone and a non-Tabas named Joe Campbell — who’d been with the family since Dan hired him as a busboy at the age of 14 — was at the helm, the bank started doing better. In fact, during his tenure, the bank’s assets jumped from $427 million to $1.3 billion.