By Pat Loeb

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — One of Philadelphia’s leading entrepreneurs and business leaders has died.  Ralph Roberts, who started Comcast Corporation and built it into a Fortune 50 company, died last night in Philadelphia of natural causes.

Roberts was 95, and had handed over the reins  of Comcast more than a decade ago to his son Brian, who expanded the company even beyond his father’s far-seeing vision and led Comcast to own NBC Universal.

David Cohen, the company’s senior executive vice president, says even after his retirement the elder Roberts still came into his office regularly and was a presence throughout the company:

“One of the touchstones we have is that, if you ask yourself one question, you’ll never go wrong.  And the question is, what would Ralph do?”

Cohen notes that Roberts’ passing is a loss for the entire city, a city he loved and supported, both with philanthropy for institutions such as the Philadelphia Orchestra and as a businessman.

“When Comcast was going after AT&T,” Cohen recalls, ” one of the demands of the AT&T board was to move the combined headquarters to New York.  And both Ralph and Brian labeled that ‘non-negotiable.’ ”

Now, Comcast is the nation’s largest provider of cable TV and home Internet service.

Roberts moved from New York to Philadelphia when he was 17, graduated from Germantown High School, and put himself through Penn.

In 1963, he bought a 1,200-subscriber cable company in Tupelo, Miss., and built it into the multimedia empire it is today.

“It’s this unique combination of skills,” notes Cohen, the Comcast official. “I don’t know that there’s a comparison in American business history of someone who was as effective a businessman, negotiator, company-builder, but was at the same time so universally well-liked and respected.”

Cohen says he’s happy that Roberts was recognized with the Philadelphia Award earlier this year.

Later today, Mayor Nutter issued a statement saying, in part, “Our city has lost a wonderful champion with his passing.”  It went on to say that “Ralph Roberts has left a lasting legacy on his company and our great city, and it will endure for generations.  He will be truly missed.”

 

Roberts is survived by his wife of 70 years, Suzanne, and four of his children. They will have a private service but plan a remebrance ceremony in the future.