Bob Kennedy’s father was the commissioner of the NBA for 12 years, ending in 1975. For most sons, that would be a defining label. Not for Bobby, as those of us who were part of his sports staff at the Stamford Advocate called him.
His father’s accomplishments — he was also mayor of Stamford — ended up being high on the list of interesting footnotes, for Bobby blazed his own trail. He worked at the Advocate for four decades, most notably as the sports editor for 32 years, before retiring in 2007.
Bobby passed away two weeks ago after a battle with Alzheimer’s. He was 77. Bobby was laid to rest today, in a private ceremony due to the pandemic. Bobby loved people and magnetically attracted that affection right back, so sadly his wife Bartan and their four kids were denied having a standing-room-only crowd of friends to comfort them with stories they no doubt heard countless times but still draw laughter.
For those of you who only know me because of The Ruden Report over the past seven years, many of the instincts I use to cover high school sports can be traced back to Bobby. During the height of my nearly 20 years at the paper, we had a gifted nine-person staff and did a superb job covering the FCIAC, as well as college and professional sports.
All sports got covered; the males and females were treated equally. Led by Bobby, we were encouraged to innovate and explore new ideas, traits that have served me well here.
Covering high school sports is fun, and working with Bobby made it seem even less like work. He considered himself a colleague — OK, maybe the quarterback who called the plays. Whenever I introduced Bobby to others as my boss, he would quickly correct me.
“I’m his friend, his friend,” Bobby said. Which was true.
After working at two small town papers, I aspired to join The Advocate, but there were never any openings. I found it strange no one ever left. The first time I met Bobby was on a trip to Fordham, for a basketball doubleheader plus the makeup of the final minute of a third game against Fairfield University. I covered the Stags for a paper in Fairfield and Emery Filmer, whose work appears here, was the beat writer for The Advocate.
Bobby, whose daughter Kelly attended Fordham, joined us for the ride that day. A lot happened between leaving Stamford and ending the night at Bobby Valentine’s restaurant/sports bar, including Bobby thankfully putting his foot down when it was suggested we attend a party Kelly was headed to.
It turned out that night had a lot of foreshadowing. When an opening on the Advocate staff became available, Bobby hired me. And I soon learned why no one left the sports department. The paper had great ownership, a loyal staff — for a good part of my time it was a tremendous award-winning small-city daily — and editors that respected sports coverage.
I always think of Bobby during the infrequent times I hear the word assiduously. The first editor of the paper when I was there, Barry Hoffman, was a strong supporter, as he reminded Bobby and I during a conversation a few months after I arrived.
I read the sports section assiduously, Barry told us. He soon suggested a feature on Bobby Spillane, a star three-sport athlete at Trinity Catholic. Bobby and I looked at each other. “Dave wrote a story on him a week ago,” Bobby said with a smile. I couldn’t resist. “I thought you said you read the sports section assiduously,” I said to Barry.
That was just one of the many stories — and there were many — that would get re-told over the years.
Bobby was a tremendous raconteur. He could tell first-hand stories of celebrities such as Howard Cosell — “Little Bobby Kennedy,” he was called, Bobby said, in his best Cosell impersonation — Mickey Mantle and Joe DiMaggio. Bobby shared these memories in his customary casual manner, without a trace of braggadocio.
Bobby held the key to Stamford’s rich sports history because Bobby was Stamford sports. He knew everyone, and everyone knew him. Bobby could trace all aspects of Bobby Valentine’s career, and did so, often from the first seat at the bar of Valentine’s eponymous eatery.
Bobby’s annual Super Bowl column became renowned in Stamford. He rounded up the picks from all segments of city society. We used to joke that it was really a two-week pass for Bobby to visit Stamford’s wide range of dining establishments.
Bobby won a number of awards. He is one of the lone media members in the FCIAC’s Hall of Fame. He was a successful coach for Stamford Senior Babe Ruth teams that made World Series appearances, leading to his getting the nickname Skip. He was a grand marshal of Stamford’s famed St. Patrick’s parade.
I only saw Bobby get mad twice. Once was at a staff member. Once was at the father of a freshman girls basketball player who called wanting more coverage for his daughter. You give that other freshman a lot of publicity, the father said, referring to a player on another team. That freshman is averaging 20 points a game, Bobby replied. To which the father answered, No, only 19.9.
Working for Bobby was a two-way street of respect. I always was willing to make sacrifices — once getting out of bed with the flu and a 102-degree fever because he could find no replacement to cover Trinity in a state semifinal basketball game. And I seldom worked when the Giants were playing or during the first two days and Final Four of the NCAA basketball tournament.
I would have made the sacrifices regardless.
How unique it was to have the kind of relationship with your boss as I did with Bobby. When I left the Advocate for a year and a half and worked at ESPN, we stayed in constant touch and shared many dinners. When I quit and my job opened up again, Bobby welcomed me back.
After Bobby retired, we still met regularly at Bobby Valentine’s. We were both on the board of the Mickey Lione Fund, a charity started by Valentine and friends to honor the memory of the great high school coach who was a frequent visitor to Shea Stadium when Valentine managed the Mets.
Bobby and Bartan got to know my parents and I got to know Bartan and their kids very well. It is a truly special family that for two weeks has had a big void.
It has been a void for the city of Stamford, a void for all his friends. In 10 days, I lost my mother and “former boss” to Alzheimer’s. It took me a while to write this because with Bobby it is not the words here but all the memories.
I’m using the word out of context, but I think you will all understand me saying I will remember each of them assiduously for a long time.