Letter: An Ode to Bob CastleList veteran Bob Castle, 69, died March 8 at New York Hospital after battling the rare muscle disease polymyositis for many years. Ralph Stevens recalls their five-decade friendship.
"SOBOVINSKY" ... "CASLOVITZ" ... This is how Bob Castle and I greeted each other for the past 53 years. That's right, 53 years. I met Bob when we became fraternity brothers at Alpha Lambda Sigma at the City College of New York.
Sobovinsky was my last name when Bob met me. Caslovitz was the name I always called him because we knew that the name Castle was not a Jewish name - and because we were Jewish boys from the Bronx, I assumed that somewhere along the way his name was Caslovitz. I changed my name officially in 1960, and his parents had changed their last name before Bob was born. And that's how we greeted each other, on the phone and whenever we saw each other in person.
Bob was one of the most charismatic people I have ever met. He mesmerized you with his stories, his positions on various topics and certainly his yak reports. And if you had the good fortune to be his friend, you had his unbridled love and affection forever.
Many people in the list industry know the story of how I helped get Bob into the list business in the late 1960s. I was a direct mail copywriter earlier in my career, and the letter I wrote on his behalf became known in the Castle household as "the legendary Stevens letter," to be used later, with a few minor revisions, for Joan, Bob's wife, when she decided to pursue a career as a psychological counselor. For Bob, the letter brought several responses, one of which was from Names Unlimited, which hired him. Bob became one of the most astute list professionals in the business. I know this because I went into the list business in 1972, and when I discovered what a tough competitor he was, I was almost sorry I had written that letter for him.
Other than a few minor skirmishes over almost 30 years of competition, our friendship was sometimes challenged but never threatened. For eight years or so, our offices were across the street from each other and we would have breakfast or lunch several times a month in the coffee shop adjacent to his building. And when we did have a rare disagreement over something, let me tell one of the ways Bob handled it. In one incident, he and I got ticked at each other for some reason I really don't remember. We had some angry words over the phone. The next day, I was called to the front desk by our receptionist and handed a huge bouquet of roses. I took out the card, and it read: "Dear Ralph ... sorry for the misunderstanding. I love you!" It was signed, "Bob." I knew instantly who it was from and I started to laugh. Half of my office, however, had read the card before it got to me and thought I was gay and was getting flowers from my angry lover. When I told Bob about this, he couldn't stop laughing.
Bob and I played bridge together for more than 35 years, starting in the early '60s. We played bridge with people in and out of direct mail, including luminaries such as Stan Woodruff, Doug Flynn, Kay Cassidy, Barbara Kumble, John Pahmer, JoAnne Woodruff and Rick Blume. It was during one of those early bridge games, when he and I were partners, and I bid and made seven no-trump doubled on a combined holding of 28 points, that he first uttered the expression that he later became known for ... "Outasight!" And when I would call him to set up a new bridge game, one of his other well-known utterances was, "Yeah, yeah, yeah."
As in bridge, in life sometimes you get a good hand and sometimes you don't. The good players learn to play the hand they are dealt. There's no question Bob was dealt a lousy hand with regard to his health. But from the moment he contracted that hideous disease, I never heard him bemoan his fate. Bob accomplished more, had more friends and had a greater positive outlook than just about anyone I've ever met, and I've always been amazed at his courage and his heart. He loved life, he loved people, he loved intense conversations, he loved to tell stories and he loved to laugh. And most of all, he loved the industry.
So at the risk of sounding corny or gay ... "Bob ... we love you." Rest in peace.
Ralph Stevens, President, Ralph Stevens & Associates LLC