IT’S HARD enough when a parent says good-bye to a child voluntarily, such as when the kid leaves home for college. It’s much harder when the parting isn’t by choice, as when being forced to give up the child for adoption.
Runner’s World was Bob Anderson’s baby. He conceived, birthed and then nurtured his magazine through its late teens. Now came time for a parting that he didn’t seek.
Bob’s personal secretary called me in early 1985 to announce a company meeting. “It’s mandatory for the office staff and strongly recommended for you,” she said.
This was one of very few command appearances since I’d gone on contract with the magazine eight years earlier and had moved away from its home city. “We’ll book flights for you so you can come down that morning and fly back to Eugene the same day,” said the secretary. This sounded serious.
The meeting was rather bizarre: buffet lunch at a country club, swimsuit models (from Bob’s new business called Ujena) parading, then a speech by the boss himself, dressed in one of the three-piece suits that were his business uniforms at the time. He spoke at length, betraying emotions that he usually kept well hidden, about the hard choice he now faced.
Bob faced a divorce from his wife Rita. She owned half of the business and wanted cash for her portion. The only way that he could raise that money was to put his “baby” up for sale.
He wasn’t ready to name the bidders but said “there is interest.” The staff grew increasingly somber, if not stunned.
“I hope to stay with the magazine in some capacity,” Bob said. “And I’ll do whatever I can to keep as many of you as possible working here.”
I didn’t hear about the sale from anyone in the Runner’s World offices but from a point man for the buyer. Chuck McCullagh called from Rodale Press in Pennsylvania.
“We have a verbal agreement to buy RW and will be out in California to sign the papers in a couple of weeks,” he said. “We want you to stay on our editorial team.”
He told me that Bob Anderson would have no future role. Only a pair of editors from Mountain View, Marty Post and Bob Wischnia, would move east. Amby Burfoot, my contract-writer counterpart on the East Coast, would continue in that role.
“Have you named an editor?” I asked. Chuck said, “We’re hoping it will be you. Interested?”
Not if it required relocating, which it did. “I’m now a single father to two children who live with me, and I have the third here every other weekend,” I told him. “Their mom wouldn’t think of them going across the country, and I couldn’t stand being separated from them.”
Chuck said he understood, then made the backup pitch that he’d already expected to use. “Well then, how about you staying with us under the same terms as before?”
Done, just like that. Only later would I see how lucky I’d been to get this call at all, at a time when most jobs at the magazine had ended abruptly.
TWO EVENTS in 1971 introduced me to the Rodales. First, Rodale Press sent me its newest magazine, Fitness for Living. It was born prematurely, before enough readers craved this type of publication, and died young.
That same year company founder J.I. Rodale, 73, was taping Dick Cavett’s TV interview show when Rodale said something like, “I’ll live to be at least 100.” Then he collapsed of a heart attack and died right there on the set.
Rodale’s son Bob took over the company and set about expanding it. He tried in 1983 to buy Running magazine, but Nike chose to let it go under instead of selling. Then in 1985 Runner’s World became available, and it joined Rodale Press’s growing lineup.
I first met the new boss soon afterward. Rodale Press called its first RW meeting at a downscale hotel in the Bay Area. He wore khaki pants and a blue shirt with no tie or jacket.
He let a junior officer, Chuck McCullagh, conduct the meeting. New Bob mostly listened.
When he spoke, it was to ask a question or to take a philosophical stroll that no one could quite follow. His dress, his wispy beard and his cerebral manner would have better fit a college professor than the former Olympian (1968, in shooting) and ultra-successful executive that he was.
Yet Bob’s beliefs and practices made Rodale Press all that it had become – a company not just selling publications but on a mission to save the world’s environment, as well as the individual’s health and fitness. Not everyone in the United States would practice what he preached. But most Americans now would agree, “That’s a good idea.”
In September 1990 Bob traveled to Moscow to export his ideas in the form of a Russian-language edition of New Farm magazine. Before leaving home he had said to one of his editors, “What worries me about this trip is the driving over there. It’s quite risky.”
His worries were almost over as he rode to the airport in a hotel van for the flight home. A city bus swerved across the centerline of a highway and struck the van head-on. Bob Rodale, 60, died in the crash.
Bob Rodale is gone, but his good work survives him. That’s the best one-line obituary that anyone could hope to receive.
Photo: Bob Rodale brought Runner’s World (and me) to the company that bears his family name.
[Many books of mine, old and recent, are now available in two different formats: in print and as ebooks from Amazon.com. Latest released was Miles to Go. Other titles: Going Far, Home Runs, Joe’s Journal, Joe’s Team, Learning to Walk, Long Run Solution, Long Slow Distance, Pacesetters, Run Right Now, Run Right Now Training Log, See How We Run, and Starting Lines, plus Rich Englehart’s book about me, Slow Joe.]