Twenty Years Ago, A Brutal Murder Shook The New York TV and Advertising Communities to Their Core. How These Communities Have Worked So Hard To Make Sure Some Good Has Come of This Tragedy. A Mother's Tribute
July 30th, 1990. The fashionable West Village in Manhattan. It had hit 84 degrees in New York that day, but Larry Schatz remembers that Monday night as clear as a starkly cold, crystal clear darkness in the deadest of winter.
It was around 11 p.m., and Schatz had been on the phone for about 45 minutes with his close buddy, John Reisenbach. Reisenbach, 33, was an advertising executive at All-American Television, and the two were talking about starting their own business, Schatz says.
The phone in Reisenbach’s apartment that he shared with his wife, Vicki, wasn’t working, so Reisenbach had gone to a pay phone on the corner of Jane and Greenwich to talk to Schatz.
Suddenly, Schatz heard some shouting: “Give me the money! Give me the money!”
And then he heard nothing.
Three shots had been fired, and Reisenbach was dead.
The death shocked many in New York’s media world.
New York had the dubious distinction of being the murder capital of the nation that year, with 2,245 killings, according to an article in The Villager, which did an in-depth piece about the still-unsolved Reisenbach murder a few years ago.
That statistic of New York's high murder rate, along with Reisenbach’s senseless death, resonated in the minds of a number of Reisenbach’s friends and colleagues in the media and advertising worlds.
Jim Rosenfield, the onetime CEO of TV rep firm Blair Televison and TV distributor Blair Entertainment, remembers one of his first thoughts upon hearing of Reisenbach’s killing: “At that time in New York City I wouldn’t even consider walking my dog at 10:30 at night. It was just too dangerous.”
The mean streets of New York became a major topic of conversation among a small group of Reisenbach’s friends, including Rosenfield and Schatz.
They said to one another, “Let’s honor John’s memory by trying to improve the quality of life in New York City,” says Rosenfield, who now runs JHR & Associates.
Echos Schatz, who is now with the Randolph Media Group: “We quickly found out back then that there were few organizations dedicated to this kind of thing.”
Another friend of Reisenbach’s, Bob Lilley, who was then a top executive with Western Media International and is now with Media Ventures, says, “We chose a mission that we knew John would have liked, and that his family approved of: 'to help make New York City a better and safer place to live and work.' "
Thus one year after Reisenbach’s death, the John A. Reisenbach Foundation was established by 18 of John’s friends and colleagues.
To raise money to fund the Foundation’s mission of helping make New York a safer place, a gala was held. Phil Donahue was the host, and Jim Brady, who was wounded in the attempted assassination of President Ronald Reagan, was the special guest.
According to the Foundation’s website, “With these origins, our sense of where to focus efforts immediately went toward safety related programs, and our very first allocation was to the John Jay College of Criminal Justice, with the creation of Reisenbach Masters Scholarships for students who pledged to focus their careers in New York City after graduation. We worked with John Jay on a variety of safety and anti-crime related initiatives, including sponsorship of a multi-part TV series on crime, policing and criminal justice.”
In a few weeks, on Monday, Nov. 28, 2011, the Foundation will celebrate its 20th gala. This year’s honorees, Carolyn Everson, Facebook’s Vice President of Global Marketing Solutions, and Rino Scanzoni, Chief Investment Officer of Group M, join a distinguished who’s who of the media and advertising world who have been honored at past Reisenbach galas.
In the past 20 years, the Reisenbach Foundation has made a major contribution in making New York a much safer city. You can see some of its countless contributions on its website.
Ed Erhardt, who is president, ESPN Customer Marketing and Sales, and a former gala honoree, is this year’s gala Tribute Chair. “When John was killed I lived two blocks from him," Erhardt recalls. "It really shook up the neighborhood. What’s so great about the Foundation is that for those of us who truly believe that there is no place like New York, it’s a wonderful opportunity for us to give back to this great city, and at the same time honor John’s memory.”
Ed continues, “We work in an extraordinary industry. As the world has evolved our industry has evolved and now here in New York we’re not only the center of media, but the center of the digital media business as well. And we can take the power of what we do and translate that into making New York better.”
Erhardt also makes the point that in the last 20 years the Reisenbach Foundation has worked hard to broaden its membership in the media community and involve younger people as well. For example, the Foundation now also gives out a Young Distinguished Citizen Award.
John Reisenbach’s dad is Sandy Reisenbach, the former president of worldwide marketing for Warner Bros. Several years ago he told longtime media consultant and writer Jack Myers, “When I think of what has been given to the Foundation established in John's name, I feel like I may have lost a son but something very good was created. It will never replace John but those who keep giving to the Foundation keep his memory alive and give to others in ways that would make John very happy and proud."
If you care about New York City, get involved in the Reisenbach Foundation. You’ll be surrounded by a delightful group of like-minded men and women.
And it’s a fitting way to remember a great guy who loved working in the business like you do.
Here’s a tribute to John that his mom, Barbara, lovingly penned:
He walked with grace, this son of mine.
A candle glows; the flame will shine.
So soft his steps and long his stride, I see him now;
I look with pride.
A gentle child, a time so sweet, the scent pervades;
the taste complete.
It is with warmth and lasting joy,
I see him now, the little boy.
His laughter rings; the man is heard.
A grinning face, a caring word.
I feel his love; it does not end.
I see him now,
He walked with grace, this son of mine.
A candle glows, the flame will shine.
With gratitude I bow because I see him now;
I know he was.