Ralph J. Roberts: My Philadelphia Story

Comcast Corporation; 85; Center City

Ralph Roberts  photographed on  October 24th, 2005,  at Little Pete’s in  Center City. Photograph by Bill Cramer

Ralph Roberts photographed on October 24th, 2005, at Little Pete’s in Center City. Photograph by Bill Cramer

I have about 92 bow ties.

Maybe 10 years ago, somebody gave me one. It looked kind of interesting, so I got another one. So many people commented on it that I just bought them. If you need any, let me know.

My father had a chain of drugstores, and he was also involved in real estate. He died at the bottom of the Depression. I was 12 years old. I was aware there was a Depression, but it wasn’t that bad as far as I was concerned. We lived nicely.

I took my mother’s marigolds out of the garden and sold them to all the neighbors. I’d go to your house, knock on the door, and say, “How’d you like some marigolds for a dollar a bunch? All ready to go!”

My mother did not appreciate that.

I don’t know too many businesses that started as nothing and became the largest and biggest of something in the United States. That could only happen in America. Seventy thousand people, $60 billion value. Where else can you do that in one generation?

I believe the city is a great place, and we’ve proved that belief by building this new tower and having our people concentrated here. This is a good place to work and live. I’m bullish on Philadelphia.

What frustrates me is that the city has a problem attracting major corporations. The fact that we’ve stayed here is contrary to what other people are doing. We’re saying, “Come on in, the water’s fine.”

My favorite restaurant? Little Pete’s. You start off with a selection of soup, then there’s a half chicken that’s been baked in an oven. You have baked potato, applesauce, a little cranberry sauce, iced tea, a salad and a dessert — $9.25.

We usually only buy one. My wife takes the leg, and I take the breast.

The thing about cable is that it made people’s entertainment base — which was home — much more interesting.

People love television. And more is better.

I wouldn’t say I’m the greatest sports enthusiast. We have an interest in hockey and basketball. And football I guess everyone’s supposed to like.

I enjoy watching a hockey game. If I’m in there watching a game and they win, Ed Snider will say, “You are a good-luck charm. You’ve absolutely got to come back here. The next game is very important.” If they lose, he doesn’t talk to me.

I used to play golf, but one day I came home and my golf clubs were gone. I said to my wife Suzanne, “Where are my golf clubs?” She said, “I gave them away.” “Why did you do that?” “Because I want you to play tennis,” and she hands me a racquet and says, “When you play golf, I don’t see you all day. You play tennis, you’re going to get tired and come home.” That was the end of my golf game.

We enjoy the talents of the other. I admire her theatrical background. She thinks I’m a pretty astute fellow. And built a nice little business that can support her hobby.

My wife is 84 years old and putting on a [television] show every day. Just because you’re over 50, you don’t give up.

The advice I gave my son Brian was to follow his own instincts, do it well, don’t be thwarted by those who find your objectives are not to their liking. Be creative. Tell the truth. Maintain a high level of integrity. And do the right thing for people.

[The failed Disney takeover] was disappointing, because I believe it would have been a magnificent company. I still believe that.

Part of my responsibility is to keep the Comcast family working well. I’m still under the illusion it’s a family business. The family just got bigger.

Originally published in the January 2006 issue of Philadelphia magazine.