Malara Remembered

New York State Broadcasters Association President Joe Reilly spoke at a memorial service Aug. 30 for Tony Malara, former CBS network and affiliates chief, who died last week following a heart attack at a vacation home in upstate New York.

Reilly remembered Malara as a man "beloved by everyone, everywhere."

Following are Reilly's remarks, delivered at St. Anthony's Church in Watertown, N.Y.

We are here to celebrate the life of our remarkable friend.
Tony was really extraordinary and it is a daunting task to adequately, appropriately and justifiably describe a legend.  He is our legend … but a legend none the less.
Anthony C. Malara was a larger-than-life individual that you come across once in a lifetime … if you are lucky.  He was someone who leaves an indelible imprint.  He was our “BIG PAPI.”
Many times Upstate New York gets overshadowed by the bright lights of New York City.  And I think only our beloved Tony Malara could have rocketed himself from Watertown to outshine them all in the great city.  His gregarious personality put everyone at ease when he swam with those big fish.  His great talent, as we know, was making people, anyone, everyone … feel like they alone were the center of his attention and caring.
No organization, no entity knows that better than the New York State Broadcasters Association, where he served as our president … and as MC of our annual Summer Conference dinners for over 30 years.  His dazzling white smile, his perpetual tan, his folksy charm and delightful wit just drew you in … making you feel – instantly - like “one of the gang.”
Make no mistake, Tony had a wonderful life.  He enjoyed a superb and relentlessly loving family:  Mary, Toby & Beth, Meg & Scott, Beth & Hammy, his sister Ann, his grandchildren and innumerable, countless friends.
He was beloved everywhere by everyone…in and out of broadcasting.  I know the gang at the NYSBA loved him … Dick, Mary Anne, Sandy and Barbara … as do the folks at NAB in Washington.  And he had a special affection for the humanitarian work of the Broadcasters Foundation of America represented here today by Phil Lombardo, Gordon Hastings, Dick Foreman, Nick Verbitsky, Rick Buckley, Ed McLaughlin and Bill Moll.
But fully half the reason … indeed most of the reason … for Tony’s success is sitting here in the front row … Mary Frances Theresa Dacey.  Mary kept Tony “real” … focused and even, at times, humble.  She made sure Tony had both feet on the ground.  Well, maybe at least one of them.  (laughter)
On so many occasions, across thousands of nights, Mary would accompany him when Tony would walk into a room as broadcasters and everyone rushed to his side to talk to him.   Everybody wanted a piece of Tony.  Mary saw this and understood.
But, you know what?  Tony could have entered a room full of strangers and within minutes he’d have 20 new friends.  Mark Russell, the famous humorist and satirist said at one of our dinners that he actually met Tony at a “home for the chronically adorable!”
Let me take you back, for a moment, to the halcyon days of the New York State Broadcasters Association when we used to meet in high council at the glorious Otesaga Hotel on Lake Otsego in Cooperstown.  Those were the days of Wally Schwartz, Phil Beuth, Bob Peebles, R. Peter Straus, Bob King, Bob Klose, Dick Beesmeyer, Les Arries, Phil Spencer, Lev Pope, Marty Beck, Tom Leahy, Walter Maxwell, Bob Williamson, Bob Leader, Perry Bascom, Ed McLaughlin and so many more. 
There were also – and always, it seems - Tony & Mary, the O’Shaughnessy kids, the Champlins, the Noviks, the Reillys, all young upstart broadcasters in our early 30’s.  My mind drifts back … Tony & Mary invited Carol & me up to Watertown for a weekend.  Aside from having to sleep in a freshly painted guest room (we could hardly breathe!) Carol & I had a ball.  (And, of course, we all remember when Tony portrayed “Pow Wow the Indian Boy” on WWNY-TV, which these days resides in the capable hands of Cathy Pircsuk).  Anyway, during that weekend long ago … Tony and Mary had a party on Saturday night and we met their “Watertown buddies.”   Some great people like Johnny Vespa, Nunzi Steno, Ralphie Marzanno and Bobby Cox.
After everyone left and Mary & Carol went to bed, Tony & I stayed up until the dawn came talking about our futures.  Tony was pretty much resigned to staying in Watertown.  Johnny Johnson, the owner of the newspaper and WWNY-TV was Tony’s boss and was good to him.  So Tony figured that was it … but I could see he also had a burning desire to be “tested.”  Well, a few months later, our phone rang late on a Sunday night.  It was Tony.  He said CBS had offered him a job in Affiliate Relations.  I said “Wow … what’s Affiliate Relations?” (laughter)
Tony accepted that position at CBS.  Jim Rosenfield called me Friday.  He was then the CBS president … the one who actually hired Tony at Bob Hoskings’ urging.  To make life easier for Tony, Jim invited him to lunch every day for the first five days so he could get used to the Big Apple.  Jim said he’d thoughtfully have someone important join them each day.  At the end of the week, Tony asked Jim “How’d I do, boss?”  Jim responded, “Well, how do you think you did?  I think pretty well.”  Tony said “Do you have any comments or suggestions?”  Rosenfield said “Yeah … do you have any jackets & slacks that match?” (laughter)
Jim said he took a lot of flack when he hired Tony, especially during those early days on the job.  Tony used to wear those blue leisure suits and he always gave the “Peace” (V sign).  In fact, he always signed his personal notes with “Peace, Tony!”  (Not Sincerely yours or Yours truly or even Cordially.)  When Tony first had business cards printed, they told him not to have his name printed on them so the next guy could use them! (laughter)
Tony worked under several chairmen at CBS.  The legendary founder Mr. Paley.  Also John Backe … Arthur Taylor … Tom Wyman … and, of course, Larry Tisch.
These were not always easy assignments working for and with such disparate types.  Most of them were not even broadcasters.
As the story goes, while Tony was still fairly new at CBS, Mr. Paley called a meeting and included Tony.   The Great Paley wanted to add a newscast at 11:30 PM and Tony argued against it.  Bill Paley asked him why.  Tony said:  “Mr. Paley you don’t understand.”   The room fell silent and Paley said “OK, Mr. Malara … make me understand!”  After the meeting mercifully ended, several attendees told Tony “The Boss doesn’t like to be questioned.”  But Tony said what really mattered to him was that Bill Paley later sent him a note: “It’s good to see a young man stand up for what he believes!”
Larry Tisch was quite another story.  (laughter)  Mr. Tisch came from a hugely successful & powerful corporate background.  On Tisch’s first day, he fired hundreds of CBS senior staffers and vice presidents.  Tony immediately and vocally questioned those moves.  Mr. Tisch said: “CBS does 5 billion dollars a year … and has hundreds of VPs.  My company does 12 billion a year and we have 80 VPs.  Do the math!  (laughter)  Tony knew he had his work cut out for him.
He traveled with kings and was befriended by governors like Mario Cuomo.  But after all of it … the high life … all the glitter … the fancy restaurants … the corporate jets … after traveling the world … he would always return to you and his neighbors here in  his beloved Watertown … to your beautiful river … and those fabled islands on the Canadian border.
I guess we’re all asking ourselves … what do we do now?
How do we fill an unfillable void?  Over time, I expect, the memory will dim, but our powerful bond with Tony will remain unbroken.
At the end of the day … broadcasting is about people, not the bottom line.  No one understood this better than Tony.  In a high-stakes business like broadcasting, competition among colleagues is fierce.  Our business has seen more than its share of scandals, back-stabbing, busted marriages and life-long friends falling out with each other. 
Tony, to his everlasting credit, never got caught up in any of that.  He built bridges on the way to the top.  But, and this, I think, was the secret to his remarkable success in life … he didn’t burn them. 
Maybe, just maybe … when you think of it … it’s not at all surprising that his great heart finally gave out last week up at Wellesley Island … because, you see, that was the part of Tony that got the most use. 
His remarkable, loving heart which embraced all of you.  And all of us. 
Peace, Tony.
Peace …

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.