Cencom Cable Founder Brooks Dies at 69

Cable pioneer Robert A. Brooks died last week from complications following cancer surgery.

One of the industry's most successful entrepreneurs, the 69-year-old Brooks underwent surgery at St. Johns Hospital in St. Louis last week after a recent diagnosis of cancer.

During his career, Brooks founded Cencom Cable Associates, which later became part of Charter Communications, and Brooks Fiber Properties, a competitive local-exchange carrier he sold to WorldCom Inc. in 1998 for $3.3 billion.

He was also a founding director of OneComm Communications, which later became part of Nextel Communications.

Charter president Jerald Kent, whom Brooks hired at Cencom in 1983, credited Brooks with also bringing Commscope Inc. chairman Frank Drendel and former Charter vice chairman Barry Babcock into the cable business.

"Bob was a tremendous person and one of the greatest entrepreneurs in the cable industry," Kent said. "His passing is certainly a loss for the cable industry and for entrepreneurs."

A devoted Catholic, Brooks helped organize a papal visit to St. Louis last year and was a deacon at Ascension Church in Chesterfield, Mo., and at St. Mary's Star of the Sea in Longboat Key, Fla.

"The three things that stand out about Bob were his extraordinary interest in his family, in his religion and in his business interests," said John C. Shapleigh, chairman of Partner Communications & Services Inc., a St. Louis-based firm that offers broadband services to apartments and condominiums.

"In addition to teaching his protégés a lot about business, Bob Brooks also taught them a lot about life, especially loyalty among friends," said Shapleigh, a co-founder of Brooks Fiber Properties.

One thing Brooks apparently never succeeded at was retirement. He returned to the telcom field in 1998 to found Gabriel Communications Inc., a facilities-based provider of telecom services to businesses.

"I was at his retirement party a year-and-a-half ago," Kent said. "Then he founded Gabriel. It was just in his blood."

Brooks is survived by his wife of 47 years, JoAnna, five daughters and two sons. One of his sons, John, is vice chairman of St. Louis-based MSO Millennium Digital Media Systems.