Bob Walsh, NBC exec who never forgot his roots, has died at 88

SHARE Bob Walsh, NBC exec who never forgot his roots, has died at 88

Bob Walsh with his wife Marion. | Supplied photo

As an executive vice president of NBC, Robert S. “Bob” Walsh jetted around the world to oversee coverage of the 1988 Seoul Olympics, Wimbledon and the French Open.

In addition to NBC Sports, he was responsible for NBC radio and the TV stations owned and operated by the network. He reported to Grant Tinker, NBC’s legendary chief.

In his office, where others might have shown off awards, the Chicago native displayed a city firefighter’s helmet.

“That was given to him by his neighborhood friend who grew up to be a battalion chief,” said Al Jerome, who succeeded Mr. Walsh as president of the NBC stations group. “That was a symbol of what neighborhoods and Chicago meant to him.”

“Bob always said he really wanted to be a Chicago fireman,” said Marion, his wife of 61 years.

Mr. Walsh, 88, died at his Wilmette home April 23 of complications from Parkinson’s disease.

He was a Golden Gloves boxer who went on to become a captain in the Marines —something he made sure to inform young men who came calling on his daughters. He studied to be a teacher at Northern Illinois University but instead wound up working more than 25 years at NBC, where those he hired included Mark Giangreco, Ron Magers, Carol Marin and Jim Ruddle.

“He was Grant Tinker’s right-hand man in the world of ‘must-see TV,’ ’’ said Marin, referring to NBC’s slogan when it dominated the ratings in the 1990s.

She called him “one of the greatest of bosses.”

“Usually, when the big boss walks in the newsroom, everybody freaks out and tightens up,” said Giangreco. “When Bob walked in, he released this calm that washed over everyone’s desk.”

“Everybody figured . . . this is the guy you can trust,” Ruddle said.

Young Bob Walsh, a Golden Gloves boxer, also boxed in the Marine Corps. | Family photo

Young Bob Walsh, a Golden Gloves boxer, also boxed in the Marine Corps. | Family photo

Mr. Walsh retained more than a touch of his blue-collar upbringing. “He was a bowl-of-soup-and-sandwich kind of guy,” Marin said. “He’d go to firehouses and have lunch” with childhood friends.

He grew up in a family with five kids in St. Timothy’s parish. His father worked in sales for WIND-AM. They lived near California and Devon in an apartment above a coffee retailer.

Young Bob went to St. George High School and worked mowing lawns and picking up trash at Green Briar Park, where Ed Kelly was a gym instructor. Later, Kelly rose to be a Democratic powerhouse and superintendent of the Chicago Park District.

When Mr. Walsh became an NBC executive, he supported its boxing programs, televising championships. “He was constantly doing things for the parks,” Kelly said.

Bob and Marion Walsh on their wedding day in 1955.

Bob and Marion Walsh on their wedding day in 1955.

Mr. Walsh met Marion Whelan in 1954 when they stood up in a wedding. They got married in 1955 and spent five years in Philadelphia, where he worked as an advertising manager for Household Finance.

In the 1960s, he returned to Chicago, where he did radio and TV sales for NBC, rising to be general manager at WMAQ. Later, he moved to New York City, where Mr. Walsh was one of Tinker’s executive vice presidents.

Tinker credited him for his eye for talent, saying Walsh questioned him when Tinker wanted to fire Howard Stern “because I didn’t want his stuff on NBC.”

“He was doing very well on the NBC radio station in New York,” Tinker said in the book “80: Our Most Famous 80-year-olds.” “I heard it, and I said to Bob Walsh, ‘Get rid of this guy.’ Walsh said, ‘He’s going to do awfully well somewhere else.’ I said, ‘Fine, let him do that.’ ”

Bob and Marion Walsh and family. | Supplied photo

Bob and Marion Walsh and family. | Supplied photo

“When he wasn’t working, he was with his family. He wasn’t sitting around in saloons,” said his friend John Lane.

He believed “you should always have a guest bedroom for someone to stay, and a dining room table to have a place to gather people,” said his daughter Margy Roberts.

Tinker left NBC in 1986, after GE bought the network. After overseeing coverage of the 1988 Olympics, Mr. Walsh returned to Chicago and did consulting.

The Walshes were longtime supporters of Misericordia. Their late daughter Maureen lived at the community for the developmentally disabled.

“He provided many public relations opportunities to spread the good news of Misericordia’s mission — including the production of a Misericordia documentary,” said Sister Rosemary Connelly, the facility’s director.

Bob and Marion Walsh and Sister Rosemary Connelly of Misericordia. | Supplied photo

Bob and Marion Walsh and Sister Rosemary Connelly of Misericordia. | Supplied photo

Marin’s son Gideon, who is profoundly developmentally disabled, lives at Misericordia. When she realized he would never be able to live independently, Mr. Walsh “helped me gather the courage to talk to Sister Rosemary because that’s a big step for a parent, to say, ‘I can’t fix it.’ ’’

Mr. Walsh is also survived by another daughter, Kathleen; son Tom; sisters Mary Mosher, Colleen Jennings and Margy McCall; and five grandchildren.

His visitation is 3 to 8 p.m. Sunday at Donnellan Family Funeral Home in Skokie. A funeral Mass is scheduled for 10 a.m. Monday at St. Francis Xavier Church in Wilmette.

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