Two Big Loves:
The Olympics and Penn
Almost every day, C. Robert “Bob” Paul Jr W’39 had the same routine.
He’d wake up at 5:30 a.m., put on his suit and hat, catch the 6:10 train out of Merion Station and jump on the 6:30 New York train departing from Philadelphia’s 30th Street Station. He’d sit in the smoking lounge so he could puff on his Bering cigar while he read the morning paper. After arriving at Penn Station, he’d make the mile-long walk to the old Olympic House building at 57 Park Avenue, work well into the evening and make the long commute back to his suburban Philadelphia home, where he’d retire to a table in the corner of his bedroom and do some more work—usually typing and talking on the phone, while watching a ballgame on TV and listening to another on the radio. Sometimes, on the really late nights, he’d stay in his Manhattan office, where his trusty cot beckoned.
As the first-ever director of public information and press chief for the United States Olympic Committee (USOC), where he worked from 1967 until his retirement in 1990, Paul logged so many hours for two reasons. One, he needed to, in order to keep what was then a lean organization afloat. And two, the former Penn sports information director simply loved his job. Until the day he died, in January 2011, at the age of 93 [“Obituaries,” May|June 2011], he cared deeply about the Olympics.
“Outside of his family and friends, he had two big loves: the Olympics and Penn,” says his son, Bob Paul III W’77. “He devoted his life to both of those things.”
Yes, in addition to all of Penn’s Olympians, there were also Penn graduates like Paul who further stamped the University’s legacy on the world’s foremost sporting competition. Without Paul, the Olympics might not even be where it is today. At a time when only about 10 people worked for USOC, Paul was, according to his son, “a fountain of knowledge” who not only coordinated the efforts of the media but also fielded questions from the general public. In a tribute written shortly after Paul died, his former deputy, Mike Moran, called him a “library-on-legs” and “one of the few remaining links between today’s streamlined, diverse, and powerful USOC and the tidy, patrician, Ivy League-dominated Olympic House on Park Avenue.”
“It went way beyond being in charge of publicity and communications,” Paul’s son says. “He had to wear a lot of different hats.”
Paul was certainly well suited for the job. After working as Penn’s SID from 1953 to 1961—at which time he played an integral role in the formation of the Big 5 and the Ivy League, as well as helping turn the Penn Relays into the country’s premier track and field event—and then at the Amateur Athletic Union from 1961 to 1967, Paul was a “legend in the business already,” according to Moran, when he began working for USOC.
Paul’s son remembers going with his dad to the Summer Olympics in 1968, 1972, and 1976 and seeing just how happy he was working at his press office in the Olympic Village. “It was probably like living his dream,” says the younger Paul, who worked the ’76 games with his dad, between his junior and senior years at Penn. But it was also a grind. “He went three days straight without even going to his room,” Paul’s son recalls. “It was remarkable how much he did on a shoestring budget in those early days.”
As he got older and the Olympics got bigger, Paul’s workload eventually became more manageable. In 1978, he and his co-workers moved from their headquarters at Olympic House to a sprawling complex in Colorado Springs, Colorado, where the USOC expanded to meet the ever-growing needs of its athletes and the media covering them. But until his retirement in 1990, Paul remained the go-to guy for Olympic information—so much so that his old boss, former USOC chief F. Don Miller, said at Paul’s retirement party, “Much of Bob Paul’s life has been an unstoppable ascension of Mount Olympus, and this evening, he reaches its summit. Therefore, Bob Paul’s life and dedication now define him—he is truly an Olympian.”
If he were alive today, Paul would probably scoff at the notion that he was an Olympian. Others did more, he might say, and others won medals for their country. For him, it was just good enough to be around the real Olympians, to befriend the ones who were living and research the ones who were not. His goal was to keep the torch aflame, always.
And then there was Paul’s just-as-strong connection to Penn. Told about the University’s remarkable streak of sending athletes to every Summer Olympics since 1900, Paul’s son remarks that it was probably his dad who first came up with that.
“Any fact out there about Penn Olympians he knew,” the younger Paul says. “That was the convergence of his two loves. He knew about all Olympians, but Penn Olympians was his favorite subject.”
Bob Paul’s son pauses for a few moments, thinks more about his father, and then continues, with a more wistful tone. “Penn’s got a great Olympic tie-in and my father is an example of that,” he says. “He helped bring it to life.”—D.Z.
July|August 2012 Contents
FEATURE: Penn in the Olympics
SIDEBAR: 2012, Too
SIDEBAR: Two Big Loves: The Olympics and Penn