Public TV defender, visionary Ralph Rogers dies in Dallas

Originally published in Current, Nov. 17, 1997

Ralph B. Rogers, the Dallas businessman who re-founded and perhaps saved PBS in the early 1970s, died Nov. 4 [1997] after a long illness. He was 87.

In business, Rogers was millionaire founder and, until recently, chairman of Texas Industries, a concrete and building materials firm now known as TXI.

But in his civic life, he was many men--"one of the last survivors of a generation of leaders who shaped Dallas after World War II," according to the Dallas Morning News.

He not only revived KERA-FM/TV in his hometown and intervened in PBS history at a crucial moment, headed major fund drives that built the Dallas Symphony and Parkland Hospital. He worked for St. Mark's prep school and for the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center. A prize-winning gardener, he led the establishment of the Dallas Arboretum.

After surviving a fight with rheumatic fever, Rogers raised funds for a national research project, which found that antibiotics could prevent the infection that had been a major killer of children.

He was a founding board member of Children's Television Workshop in the 1970s and propelled its outreach work with daycare centers in the 1990s. In recent years, he began a new campaign for efforts to help children fulfill their mental potential.

"It is a marvelous example of a life well-lived," PBS President Ervin Duggan told a reporter this month.

James Day calls Rogers "the man who saved public television" in Day's 1995 history of the field, The Vanishing Vision. In 1973, the Nixon Administration was trying to reign in PBS programming. The politically appointed CPB Board was preparing to take control of the station interconnection, and refused to negotiate with the PBS Board, then composed largely of station managers. "Leadership of the type and strength needed could only come from outside the ranks of the public television professionals," Day wrote.

Rogers, representing KERA, chaired a committee of prominent lay leaders that the CPB Board "could ill afford to ignore," according to Day's account. In desperation, the old manager-governed PBS Board put the network under a new board of laypeople chaired by Rogers in March 1973. PBS retained a supplementary board of managers.

Working with a new CPB chairman, James Killian, Rogers negotiated a "peace pact" that permitted distribution of non-CPB-funded programs on the landline interconnection. Later, under Rogers' leadership, the PBS Board shifted founding President Hartford Gunn into the role of vice chairman and hired Lawrence Grossman as president in 1975.

PBS honored Rogers for his work with a special award in June, and Central Educational Network gave him the Jerry Trainor Award in May.

Rogers is survived by his wife, four sons, 16 grandchildren and 10 great-grandchildren. The family asked that no flowers be sent and suggested contributions to the KERA Enterprise Fund.

Richard Rogers, one of the sons, takes office this week as chairman of the KERA Board.

Web page posted Nov. 26, 2008
Copyright 1997 by Current Publishing Committee

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