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Tribute to a Man of Noble Character: Arthur Sando

Sep 9, 2019  •  Post A Comment

A celebration of Arthur Sando’s life will be held tomorrow [Tuesday, Sept. 10th], at 12 noon at:

Nationals Park (home of the Washington Nationals Baseball Club)
1500 South Capitol Street, SE
Washington, DC 20003

By Chuck Ross

This is a tough one. Arthur Sando, a good friend, died suddenly last week. He was only 71. For close to 40 years — as long as I’ve been doing this — Arthur was on the other side of the table as a public relations man extraordinaire, representing the likes of Ted Turner and Turner Broadcasting, Roger and Michael King and Larry Flynt.

Char Beales, who for more than two decades was the CEO of the cable industry’s premier marketing association, CTAM, says this about Arthur’s passing: “Think what a remarkable career he had, working for real giants in the industry. And not easy people to work for. Yet he kept his even, steady approach. He had a wonderful behind-the-scenes way of making sure that they stayed the stars that they all wanted to be.

“We had just reconnected when he moved back to D.C. (near the end of 2017). It’s been wonderful. The thing about Arthur was no matter how long it had been since we had talked, whenever we reconnected it was as if we hadn’t spoken for maybe a week at most, when the reality was that we may not have talked in months or years.

“If you knew Arthur, he was like that with all his friends. He kept his friendships so dear, and I know I speak for many people, who were so affected by his big heart, and his wonderfully droll sense of humor — oh my goodness. He had a remarkable ability to connect with people almost immediately. He had this way of pausing before he spoke and then the person he was speaking with filled that pause, so he learned more about you than you thought you were going to say. And if you were his friend, as so many of us were, we loved him and he loved us back.”

Friendships and family were what Arthur was all about. Charlie Lyons, a veteran media executive, was a longtime friend.

“We first met at COMSAT, which is where Arthur went when he left Turner [in 1989],” Lyons says. “I got into a habit of talking to Arthur every day. It wasn’t a matter of friendship per se. I found it was something I needed in my life. Especially after he moved back to DC from Los Angeles [where Lyons lives]. It just made me feel better. I’d get in my car and see that I had 15 messages to return, and I’d say, what the heck, I’m calling Arthur. Because I’d rather talk to him than get into all the business stuff with everyone else.

“Most of the daily conversations we had were about kids, movies, and food. We’d talk about where we were each going for dinner. And then he’d say hold on, and then he’d come back on the line and tell me that it was one of his kids calling, and we’d end the conversation.

“What was so great about this last stage of Arthur’s life is all the time he was able to spend with his daughter Jackie and his grandkids.”

Besides family, friendships were the big driver in Arthur’s life. Take for example, Steve Kroft, who just retired from “60 Minutes” after spending the last thirty years there. But almost 20 years before that, a young Kroft worked with a young Sando, who was then a television reporter at NBC affiliate WSYR-TV, Syracuse.

Kroft says in an email, “Arthur was one of my oldest and closest friends. We worked together in Syracuse at the beginning of our careers. He covered city hall and I covered the police department and the DA. Between us we had the town wired. We stayed in close touch over all those years. His death was unexpected and hard to take for all of his many, many friends.”

Another Sando friend from those halcyon “orange” days was Bob Costas. “Art and I went way back to the early 70’s at WSYR, the NBC affiliate in Syracuse,” Costas says in a statement. “Steve Kroft was there, Art was an on-air reporter, and Dave Cohen, who’s had a number of prominent broadcasting positions, including doing the Yankees on TV in 1996, was there as well. The four of us have always stayed in touch for now 45 years. Art was a lovely guy who really cared about friendships. He became close with Joe Torre when Art had a public relations post with the Braves in the 80’s and Joe was their manager. Later, he worked with Joe on Joe’s charities and fundraising events. He was a big and knowledgeable sports fan, especially about baseball. His death is a shock and a real loss for his Syracuse guys and the many people who knew and appreciated him.”

Those many people include myriad executives in the cable and broadcast worlds. When Arthur’s good friend Jeffrey Grimshaw posted on his Facebook page on Sept. 4th that “I bear very sad news in telling you that one of the PR/Media lions has passed. Yesterday, Arthur Sando suffered a sudden and fatal heart attack….” the response from those in the industry was overwhelming.

Here are some of the comments (there are over 100 of them) made in reply to that chilling annoucement on Grimshaw’s Facebook page:

Lisa Rogen Schoenberg: “I’m so sad to hear this. Arthur was my first boss and was the best”.

Kevin Goldman: “Just saw this wonderful, dear man last month for breakfast in New York. He was a Prince of the first order. I loved him. This is so horribly sad.”

Alex Swan: “What a loss for us all. As you say Jeff, he was a mensch, a big-hearted, generous man who launched a lot of careers.”

Bryan Burns: “Absolutely one of the great ones. He paved the highway for the entire cable industry.”

Amy Pempel: “Oh Jeff, my heart is breaking. I worked [at Turner Broadcasting] for Arthur with Mike Oglesby about the same time you did (I was there 82-89). I was young and inexperienced, and Arthur encouraged and mentored me. He was one of the good guys and I will treasure his spirit and kindness.”

The messages all have a similar ring and tone. Including this one I received in an email statement from one of Arthur’s more controversial bosses:

“Arthur was a powerhouse within the industry for over 40-years. He came to work for us later in his career and had a significant impact on our company, was beloved by all and his contributions too numerous to mention. He was the kindest individual, and we were fortunate to have him for the time that we did. There is a great sadness within our corporate family—Art will be remembered fondly.”—Larry Flynt

John Carman, the former TV critic for the San Francisco Chronicle and, before that, for the Atlanta Journal and Constitution, posted this on his Facebook page last Thursday: “[W]ith [Arthur’s] passing, so many people have lost a dear friend. For me, Arthur was a huge part of my personal and professional life in Atlanta. He was the head of press relations for Turner Broadcasting, and can fairly be called one of the founding fathers of CNN. I’ve spent time with Arthur in so many places — Atlanta, Los Angeles, Miami, Moscow, Frankfurt, and here in San Francisco. He was a consummate pro and a caring friend. Late in life, Arthur basked in the company of his grandchildren. And that wry smile of his took on a special warmth.”

The reason I know John is that back in 1986, when he came to the Chronicle as its TV critic, he insisted that the paper hire a TV reporter – a position the paper had not had before. Not knowing any TV reporters on the West Coast, he asked Sando to recommend one. Arthur said he’d be happy to, and he gave John my name. Having recently been fired by The Hollywood Reporter, I was glad to get the Chronicle job. I’m forever grateful, Arthur.

John has a bunch of terrific stories about Arthur. Here are two:

“We were out one night on press tour in L.A. This was in the early 1980s. Tom Jicha, Ed Bark, Arthur and I. The discussion got around to the critics. And Arthur told us that we had no idea the power we had over the networks, and that we didn’t have to just sit back and take whatever the networks threw at us, that we could have a say in how the tours went. Tom Jicha always thought that was the birth of the new TCA and new relationship with the networks.

“Then there was a time that a portion of the press tour was in Phoenix at the Arizona Biltmore Hotel. Turner Broadcasting was part of that tour, and Ted Turner was coming. They had a barbecue on the grounds of the hotel. Arthur had hired a guy and his trick bull to perform for the critics. Ted was supposed to shout out commands for the bull to do stuff. Turns out the bull couldn’t do a damn thing. We were all amused and I’m sure Ted and Arthur were very embarrassed. As I recall, all the bull was able to do was to pee, but no one was asking for that. Later Arthur told me he had learned a valuable lesson—never hire an act without seeing it first.”

I ask John what was it about Arthur that drew everyone to him. I don’t know anyone, who, once they met Arthur, wasn’t enchanted. And then they wanted to be his friend.

John replies, “Maybe it was because Arthur also seemed to be a cool guy, which he was. At the same time you would sense that he was very approachable, which he also was. He had that wry sense of humor. Professionally, he was awfully meticulous — with the exception of that one-trick bull. He had been a journalist himself, so he respected journalists. He was never irascible or threatening. He was a gentle soul and somebody you always felt you could talk with and be friends with.”

The personality that drew so many of us to Arthur was present from his earliest days, says Philip Seib, a professor of journalism and international relations at USC who went to school with Arthur in the Tenleytown neighborhood in the northwest part of Washington, D.C.

“He was always good-natured. A very pleasant person. I don’t recall ever seeing him angry with anybody. He was always very relaxed and low key. I knew him since elementary school. We lived about three blocks apart. We used to play stick-ball in the Lafayette School playground. We went through the public schools together and graduated from Woodrow Wilson High School the same year. He went off to Penn and I went to Princeton.

“He was an excellent student. He was an honors student, as were a number of us. He was a pretty good athlete. Not on varsity, but always ready and eager to throw a baseball or football around.”

I ask Seib if he thought Arthur would end up in PR. “Well, his brother Jack went to Harvard Law School and was the chief speech writer for Senator Edmund Muskie and I always thought Arthur might have law school in mind. But he was on the newspaper during high school, and the faculty advisor for the paper lived next door to him.”

In fact, according to Arthur’s LinkedIn page, he was the managing editor of the high school newspaper, as well as being a member of the Key Club, the drum major of the marching band and voted “Most Talented” boy in his senior class.

Back in January of last year, Arthur’s brother Jack died. Here is Arthur’s Facebook post about Jack’s death:

“I lost the last constant in my life yesterday, my big brother Jack, who has left us much too soon. Jack was gentle and kind, loyal and honest, brilliant yet understated, and he set a standard of excellence that was a constant challenge for me to achieve. It never mattered where either of us was, I knew he always had my back. I already miss him very much but am so thankful to have had his great wit, wisdom and love to guide me this far.”

Arthur’s lifelong friend Seib says that when he heard Arthur had died, “It was shattering. He was about the only person from my childhood that I kept up with. Intimations of mortality and all that.”

Arthur himself had an encounter back in 2012 that also had intimations of mortality. And it also shows you how much Sando, a liberal Democrat, loved, as Charlie Lyons calls it, “the old-style elegance of partisan discourse,” where you could argue with each other but remain friendly. Arthur told the following story many times, but because I never wrote it down, I will quote extensively from a story published at the time in The Hollywood Reporter. It’s written by Matthew Belloni.

This all happened on Wednesday night, Feb. 29th, 2012. It was about 10 pm, and Arthur, who lived in L.A. at the time, had just entered his local watering hole of choice in the Brentwood section of West Los Angeles. The bar and restaurant was called, appropriately, The Brentwood.

The following is from Belloni’s interview with Arthur in THR:

“Soon the empty seat next to [Arthur’s at the bar] was filled by a man with a familiar face.

“‘I tried to figure out how I knew him,’ says Sando, a veteran publicity and marketing executive who works for dietary supplement company MonaVie and has worked at CBS, King World Prods and Turner Broadcasting. ‘He was on his BlackBerry. And I said “Andrew?” I told him I had seen his work.’”

The Andrew in question was the conservative publisher and provocateur Andrew Breitbart, age 43.

The THR story continues, “Sando says the duo quickly struck up a conversation that would last a little less than two hours.

“‘He was friendly and engaging,’ Sando recalls. ‘I said, “You can’t be very happy with the slate of Republican candidates” and he said, “Why would you say that?” I said, “Well, they’re talking about contraception,” and he said, “The conversation is being framed by the liberal media.” I said, “Well, the media isn’t writing Rick Santorum’s speeches for him.” We had a back-and-forth for a while until we said we weren’t going to agree on some things.’

“The friendly debate continued in the bar as Breitbart sipped red wine, says Sando. ‘We just hit it off, he was delightful….’”

Sando told THR that after about two hours Breitbart said he was leaving and “We exchanged contact information. We were going to get together.”

Less than an hour after Breitbart left the bar he collapsed and died of heart failure.

Arthur was shocked. He told THR, “There were no signs that anything was wrong. It’s very sad.”

 

Over the many years that I knew Arthur, we spoke often and texted when need be.

My last text from Arthur was about six weeks ago, soon after my Mom died. Typically, it was all about him trying to make me feel better:

“Thinking of you. Stay strong! May your Mom’s memory bring you nothing but smiles. Btw, on your recommendation, I watched ‘When They See Us.’ Quite powerful. Thanks!”

Right now most of us who knew Arthur are in shock about his death. We haven’t been able to really process it.

Eventually, however, I’m sure his memory will bring all of us nothing but smiles.

A celebration of Arthur Sando’s life will be held tomorrow [Tuesday, Sept. 10th], at 12 noon at:

Nationals Park (home of the Washington Nationals Baseball Club)
1500 South Capitol Street, SE
Washington, DC 20003

 

2 Comments

  1. along with good friend Grimshaw. your column really sums up the man..and leaves volumes unsaid. When i was heading up pr at USA, before MTVN, I would host a Hacks and flacks dinner at the western show and NCTA. I would get all the reporters to come but I also invited my counterparts at other networks. Sure the table was loaded with USA sr. execs as well. Art would always come and even the guy from the Christian Network, whose name I have forgotten because the ‘hacks,’ were not MINE..they were there to meet other pr people and I put self-serving pr on the back burner. I was only in touch with Art through Grimshaw in the past 20 years since I left NY but we spoke about 3 mos ago in a 3 way. Art was always kind, sure of himself and though he had what was probably the biggest gig in media, he was always just a guy. and that earned my admiration. he will be missed.

  2. You can see how late this comment is, but I wanted to say, Chuck, you wrote a moving tribute to Arthur. As you and everybody else notes, he was one of a kind, and I’ve missed him since the time I was way more involved in covering the TV biz. I have a great memory of going to see Rodney Dangerfield in Las Vegas with Arthur, though of course I don’t have much of a memory of it at all except how much fun Arthur was to be around. But I do remember him at work, too, and at TV conventions. He always seemed to stand back and watch the passing scene as if the whole thing–press conference, cocktail party, back stage reception–was just the best dramedy there ever was. He’s one of those guys who, well, just KNEW what was going on. God bless him.

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