Love: SUZANNE (FLEISHER) ROBERTS & RALPH J. ROBERTS

Smooches then and now: Ralph J. and Suzanne Roberts on their wedding day in 1942 and at their 70th anniversary gala. CLEM MURRAY / Staff Photographer
Smooches then and now: Ralph J. and Suzanne Roberts on their wedding day in 1942 and at their 70th anniversary gala. CLEM MURRAY / Staff Photographer

August 23, 1942, in Elkins Park, and November 12, 2012, in Philadelphia

Posted: February 14, 2013

Hello there

It was the late 1930s when Ralph's family moved to Germantown from New Rochelle, N.Y. His sister Shirley knew no one here, so Ralph, then 17, escorted her to the confirmation dance at Congregation Rodeph Shalom.

A Rodeph Shalom classmate came dancing by. "Suzanne was the best dancer on the floor - a marvelous dancer," Ralph remembered. He tapped her date on the shoulder and cut in.

"He introduced me to his sister," said Suzanne, who was then 16. "He said, 'She's my date tonight. Isn't she attractive?' and I thought, 'My God, any brother who talks about his sister in such glowing terms must be a hell of a nice guy.' "

For the next few years, Suzanne and Ralph saw each other occasionally. He always wanted her for his dance partner, even on the cold, rainy night her mother made her wear galoshes with her evening gown. Ralph was impressed by her intelligence and her artistic talent, and Suzanne by his smarts and sense of humor, yet their dates were more friendly than romantic.

That changed one night during spring break from his business studies at the Wharton School and her theater studies at Harcum Junior College.

"I remember wiring all my girlfriends when he first kissed me," Suzanne said. "There was no such thing as a computer and cellphones; you used Western Union. I wired them all and said 'X X X,' which meant three kisses."

They started spending more time together.

How does forever sound?

When Ralph, who is now 92, was 20, and Suzanne, now 91, was 19, they took a canoe out on the Schuylkill. "Will you marry me?" Ralph asked.

"I'm not ready to get married," said Suzanne.

"If you don't say yes, I'm going to dump the canoe!" Ralph said.

He didn't dump the canoe - but her answer created a rift between them.

Suzanne still wanted to be with Ralph. She asked her mother's Irish housekeeper to call her Irish suitor on her behalf. "She spoke Irish poetry to him, in Gaelic. She told him, 'Oh, she's pining away. She's losing weight.' "

"Good for her!" said Ralph, who correctly suspected that Suzanne was eavesdropping.

The two began dating again, though. Eventually, Ralph got up the nerve to ask the big question again.

"If you don't say yes, remember that if I could get over my mother's death, I could get over you," he told her.

Suzanne still wasn't ready to marry. Again she said no.

Shortly after this second rejection, Suzanne attended a Philmont Country Club dance with another gentleman. She did not like what she saw there.

Ralph was "standing at the bar with his arm around this girl, cooing all over her, and I thought, 'Oh my gosh, I'm going to lose him to someone else!' I was jealous as hell. I wanted to go out in the street and have a truck hit me."

On the dance floor, Suzanne asked her date to switch partners. "Ralph, I have to talk to you now!" she said, pulling him outside to the dark golf course. "I want to marry you!"

"When?" asked Ralph.

"Anytime you say," she said.

It was so them

They married about six months later, in August 1942.

Ralph had graduated from college and was offered a commission in the U.S. Navy. He and all the groomsmen wore their white dress uniforms.

The ceremony was in Suzanne's mother's garden, at the family home in Elkins Park. When the rain started to fall, the couple and their 150 guests moved the celebration inside. Ralph said, "There were lots of flowers, and here was Suzanne looking so attractive, and I was excited about the whole thing."

Her nerves are what Suzanne remembers most. "It was overwhelming," she said. "The wedding night was coming."

After dinner, the newlyweds left for New York's Biltmore Hotel. Ralph lit candles and opened a bottle of champagne. Suzanne locked herself in the bathroom for the entire night.

The next day they traveled to the Adirondacks for a week's stay. Suzanne did not lock herself in the bathroom.

Busy lives

Suzanne became a television host and actress, performing in many productions, including some focused on societal problems. The Treasury Department gave her an award for the amount of money raised as a result of shows encouraging people to buy war bonds, and the Red Cross recognized her for the blood donations that resulted from her work. For the last 14 or so years, she has hosted the Emmy-winning Seeking Solutions With Suzanne, an interview show she created to examine issues and interests of people older than 50.

During a family vacation on a Navajo reservation, Suzanne used music and movement to help emotionally disturbed children. (That trip also inspired Ralph to organize an auction of Navajo crafts to raise money for the artisans.) She began doing similar work with children in the Philadelphia area, and won international recognition. In her mid-60s, she served on the faculty of Hahnemann University Hospital and received her master's degree in human services and therapeutic counseling at Antioch University.

After the Navy, Ralph, the eventual founder of Comcast, sold golf clubs, worked for the Muzak company, and worked for, then owned, Pioneer Suspender Co., which made men's accessories.

His involvement with communications began with the purchase of local community antenna television systems, which brought TV to people too far from a big city to get reception over the air.

Roberts and his partners founded American Cable Systems in 1963. They incorporated in 1969 as Comcast Corp., a name Ralph invented by combining the words communications and broadcasting.

The Robertses had five children: Catherine, Lisa, Ralph Jr. (Rob), Brian, and Douglas, who died in 2011.

Brian is now Comcast's chief executive officer, and Ralph continues to work a reduced schedule.

It was so them - again

The Robertses, who split their time between their farm outside Coatesville and their apartment in Center City, celebrated their 15th anniversary with a ceremony atop Mount Aspen in Colorado. Their two oldest children were attendants, musicians played, and they had a family picnic.

For their 50th anniversary in Las Vegas, "we made a farce of it," Suzanne says. There was an Elvis impersonator, and part of Suzanne's ensemble came from Victoria's Secret.

As their 70th anniversary approached, Ralph woke Suzanne at 3 a.m. "I got the idea of how we should celebrate our anniversary," he said. "Can't it wait until tomorrow?" Suzanne asked sleepily. "No!" Ralph told her, and then laid out the plan for the celebration for 260 that was held Nov. 12. Most important to him: She would reprise her role in Love Letters, his favorite of her performances.

"My God, that was 15 years ago!" Suzanne said. "Well, it was great then, and it will be great now," Ralph answered.

Their guests knew to gather at the Suzanne Roberts Theatre, but weren't sure what would happen. All were seated in the theater. The lights came up, and Suzanne was on stage.

After the performance, everyone headed to the theater at the University of the Arts for dinner. "Here Comes the Bride" began to play, and Suzanne appeared in a wedding gown she was pleased to find on sale at David's Bridal for about $400. Sons Rob and Brian walked her down the middle of the room and onto the stage.

Suzanne looked around. "Where's Ralph?" she said. This was part of the script, but Ralph wasn't supposed to stay hidden for as long as he did. Luckily, improv was no problem. "Well, if he doesn't come, I'll just have to marry myself!" she said.

Ralph poked his head out from behind the curtain. He emerged in a uniform very similar to the one he wore 70 years earlier. "I came over and embraced her, and the crowd was going crazy," Ralph said.

He began to sing, "If you knew Susie like I know Susie," and then the orchestra joined in. They kissed, to huge applause.

Ralph said the most incredible moment of the night was watching Suzanne in her Love Letters role. "People came out of there with tears in their eyes," he said.

Suzanne said the best part for her was seeing Ralph enjoy his anniversary idea come to life - and that all the activity did not completely exhaust him.

So, how does a couple remain happily married for 70 years?

Ralph and Suzanne said their relationship had been strengthened by having so much to talk about as each pursued their separate professional interests. And also by the collaboration that resulted when one asked the other for help or advice.

"Ralph has always had an impeccable reputation for sincerity and honesty. And he's a very modest person," Suzanne said. "I never ever met anybody who doesn't like him." She added, "As I've lived with him, I've grown to see so much positive in him, and so little negative. When we have an argument, in less than 24 hours he can't remember what it was about, which is pretty darn good."

Ralph enthuses about Suzanne's work with children. "Here's one who gives of themselves individually and personally.

"The best part of my life with Suzanne is my respect for her talent, which she has demonstrated many times throughout her life," Ralph said. Turning to Suzanne, he said, "I'm impressed and love the talent that you have in your bones."

Suzanne smiled. "Ralph would come to every show I was in - each individual performance," she said. "I'm the luckiest girl in the world, I really am."

To couples just starting out, the Robertses offer advice:

Don't talk about a fight when you are in the middle of it. Wait until you've calmed down and can be more objective. Have patience. Have date night.

"Get a sitter, go out, have supper, and don't talk about the kids constantly," said Suzanne. That way "when you become empty nesters, you're not lost."

Ralph recommends using his two magic words: "Yes, dear."


BEHIND THE SCENES

Venues

Suzanne Roberts Theatre, reception and performance; Hamilton Hall, University of the Arts, for dinner, dancing, and wedding reenactment. Both in Philadelphia

Food

12th Street Catering, Philadelphia

Music

Joe Sudler Orchestra, Philadelphia

Photography

Susan Beard Design, Philadelphia

Videography

Janis Productions, Philadelphia

Flowers and Decor

Evantine Design, Philadelphia

Dress

David's Bridal

Invitations

Lisa Benn of b design, Thornton

Event Planner

Fred Stein, the Creative Group

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