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MAY 2005

An Interview with
Preston Robert Tisch
By Joan Baum, Ph.D.

In an extraordinary life of public service and philanthropy, including serving as Postmaster General of The United States, being the city’s Ambassador to Washington in the `90s, chairing NYC Public Private Initiatives, a partnership program to fund community programs, sitting on the board as a founding member of Citymeals-on-Wheels, and now one of the driving forces behind the new Giants Stadium, corporate giant Preston Robert “Bob” Tisch cites among his proudest achievements programs that have benefited the public schools, particular among them Take the Field. Even those in small communities in the outlying boroughs who don’t know of Bob Tisch’s reputation for heading up one of the largest, most diversified financial organizations in America—the Loews Corporation—or of his amazing generosity to New York University, know about Take the Field. This fast-track, five-borough project, which Bob Tisch founded in 2000, has already restored 41 (of 43) athletic fields for New York City public schools, raising $135 million in public and private funds to accomplish this major project. It is a prime example of Bob Tisch’s vision. Rebuilding athletic facilities means promoting good health and academic performance. And pride.

The name alone, “Take the Field,” reflects Bob Tisch’s imaginative way of looking at how to improve education, for it is an answer to what prompted the initiativeÑa three-part front-page series in The New York Times which ran in January 1999. Called “Dropping the Ball,” the articles focused on the dilapidated conditions of the city’s school sports facilities, a sad story of wasted money and missed opportunity, not to mention low esteem—NYC then was at the “very bottom” of the nation’s largest cities in team sports. A public school graduate (P.S. 225 in Brooklyn), who went on first to De Witt Clinton High School (Bronx) and then to Erasmus Hall (Brooklyn), he regards Take the Field less as a sports endeavor than—what he knows wellÑas a solid investment in youngsters and in the City of New York. The shrewdness of Bob Tisch’s conception can be seen in its involvement of neighborhoods. When the schools are not using their athletic facilities, the communities have access. Needless to say, these fields are guarded by area residents as carefully as they are by the school principals. Bob Tisch chuckles when he recalls how the owners of the two-story homes surrounding Forest Hills High School went out of their way to assure him that they were going to “watch over their field.” And they do.

“Take the Field,” may be among Bob Tisch’s most subtle efforts to enhance the city by using its resources “as a living laboratory,” but it is consistent with his continuing interest in education, most prominently seen in the Tisch School of the Arts at NYU and in the Center for Hospitality and Tourism now renamed the Preston Robert Tisch Center for Hospitality, Tourism and Sports Management, a discipline that is now so successful at NYU that it has recently added a Master’s program. Tisch has been especially involved in helping the Center to build the sports management program, involving many of his colleagues. Tisch has devoted himself to the hospitality arena, having been Chairman of the city’s Convention and Visitors Bureau (now NYC & Co) for the longest running term of 19 years. Other Tisch ventures under the Public Private Initiatives, although not as well known as, for example, Citymeals-on-Wheels, have also been educational, such as funding programs for education books for new mothers, especially those in low-income neighborhoods and having these distributed in hospitals.

What advice does this major mogul of success and sharing have to say to today’s youngsters to inspire them to achieve and to give back? “It’s no secret,” he says, “find a project you can do well and stay with it.” He modestly attributes much of his own success to luck, but then concedes that perseverance is at the heart of meeting challenge. It’s more than that, of course, as anyone who has been drawn into the Tisch orbit knows. Bob Tisch has always insisted that potential donors see what has excited him. He follows through, one-on-one and knows everyone’s name. This has been his way, ever since he started his first hotel in Lakewood, New Jersey many years ago, with his late brother Larry, who was his business partner throughout his life. It was a risky venture, then, doing a winter hotel, including an ice rink—which was a firstÑbut he made the campaign personal. “Just don’t give money, send out mass mailings, and walk away. You have to be in there, a real presence, working at it.” How appropriate that Giants Stadium—Tisch’s dream for many years—is being built at last, under the watchful eyes of a giant whose own life has been a model of how to take the field.#



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