Three weeks after the U.S. Olympic Committee mourned the death of legendary film producer Bud Greenspan, whose passing was recorded by many national news outlets, another USOC trailblazer departed this life last Friday — and hardly anyone noticed.
C. Robert "Bob" Paul, the first media director and true historian of the American Olympic movement, died at the age of 93 in Bayside, N.Y.
Over the years, many respected Paul for his devotion to and efforts in the Ivy League, having graduated from the University of Pennsylvania in 1939. After serving in the Navy during World War II, he became Penn's sports information director, pushing all college sports to more prominence and playing a large role in building the Penn Relays into one of the nation's biggest annual track meets.
But Paul's career took a global turn in 1967 when he joined the USOC. For the next 11 years, he commuted by train from Philadelphia to the USOC's offices in Manhattan. His remarkable first Olympic year started with the 1968 Winter Games in Grenoble, France, topped by Peggy Fleming (who lived in Colorado Springs) winning the figure skating gold. Months later, at the Summer Games in Mexico City, Paul found himself in the center of a huge firestorm after U.S. sprinters Tommie Smith and John Carlos stunned the world with their "black power" raised-fist salutes.
Four years later, Paul again dealt with international news at the 1972 Summer Games in Munich, after terrorists killed 11 Israeli athletes and coaches. So it was no surprise that Paul developed close friendships with the likes of ABC's Roone Arledge and Jim McKay, not to mention all the top major-metro columnists and writers. At the Games, though, Paul kept his office inside the Olympic Village to be closer to the athletes.
In the back half of the 1970s, prodded by Broadmoor patriarch William Thayer Tutt, the financially strapped USOC decided to move to Colorado Springs. Paul could have retired and stayed back East, but he chose to join the 10-person contingent that moved into Olympic House here at the old Ent Air Force Base (now the U.S. Olympic Complex) on Aug. 1, 1978.
Paul was used to dealing with the national sports media, but he still took it upon himself to develop close ties with the local 20-something sports editor (yes, me). I was mesmerized by Paul's amazing Olympic stories, such as how the USOC dealt with Smith and Carlos in 1968 (at first fighting the International Olympic Committee for expelling them, then sending them home early instead of the entire U.S. team being punished), but more impressed by how he helped this kid journalist get to know Olympic legends like Bob Mathias and Al Oerter, and appreciate that they lived here.
Even after he stepped aside (remaining until 1990 in a staff role under the executive director), with Mike Moran taking over media relations, Paul still worked countless hours, even sometimes spending nights at the office, as he did in New York.
Moran, who led the tributes to Paul by calling him "one of the American Olympic family's most respected, unique linchpins" and an "important cornerstone," added this in an online eulogy: "Always, there he was in his office, hidden behind mountains of documents, publications and records, master of the archives and the history of the American Olympic movement. When a visitor came to see him, Bob would rise from his chair wearing his Mr. Magoo-like glasses, switch his ever-lit cigar to his left hand and offer a handshake. If I entered his sanctuary to ask him if he knew where some important paper was, he would hesitate for a few seconds, telling me, 'My boy, I have it right here,' and thrust his hand into one of the small mountains of papers on his desk and emerge with it."
His command of history, and decades of loyal friendships, cemented Bob Paul's place and value. But he also loved Colorado Springs, and his positive attitude about the USOC's move here helped make it work.
He never did learn how to drive, but he had much to do with helping steer the American Olympic ship through some of its most turbulent, fast-changing times.
And, as it is with so many true trailblazers, they don't make 'em like Bob Paul anymore.
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