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at his latest career move

Robert Roeding: Don’t laugh
at his latest career move

Robert Roeding leans back in his chair, does what he does best–smiles broadly–and sums up life: “Doors close and doors open,” he says, the smile punctuating the philosophy.
The most recent door to close for Roeding was the entrance to the University Avenue offices of Stites and Roeding/The Producers, the advertising agency he and Richard Stites began in 1982. But 180 degrees to the positive side on his life’s ledger, Roeding’s exit from the advertising business has allowed him to pursue his first love: stand-up comedy.
At first glance, it might appear to be a strange final destination in a career that started with newspaper advertising sales in Miami, jumped to the printing business at Case-Hoyt Inc. in Rochester and moved again to opening his own ad agency. However, making people laugh was a natural evolution of where he was and where he wanted to be, Roeding says.
“I had real aspirations of going into show business,” he recalls, “but I married a very smart woman who told me she wouldn’t marry me if I went into show business.”
That was 41 years ago. Roeding and wife Madeline are still married and his passion for humor remains unchecked.
Roeding, 62, has become a leading attraction as a corporate banquet speaker. He has addressed audiences from the Saints and Sinners annual extravaganza in Rochester to corporate outings in Phoenix, Ariz., Los Angeles and Banff in the Canadian Rockies. Despite the changes in geography and climate and the diversity of the audiences, Roeding leaves ’em laughing–and more often, howling.
Depending on his audience, Roeding might assume the role of the brilliant but condescending Dr. Werner Albrecht, an “expert” on everything, or Mrs. Elvira Hornsby, the world’s oldest secretary, or Heinie Munchausen, the world’s worst waiter. Roeding’s characters are irreverent to the extreme, and, on the rare occasions when someone in the audience takes him too seriously, downright offensive.
Dr. Albrecht made his first appearance in the early 1980s when Roeding was a last-minute replacement for advertising executive Fred Bernbach, who was to be the featured speaker at a GTE Corp. gathering. Roeding decided to create a German character who wore an eye patch. He took the name Werner Albrecht because a friend with that name was manager at the Country Club of Rochester.
“I do Werner eight, 10 times a year,” Roeding says, “and I do the old lady quite a bit. Albrecht is really popular with corporations and associations. The talk is designed to upset everybody, and I’ve had people stand up in the middle of the talk and say, “You S.O.B.,’ and walk out.”
It happened in the early 1980s.
“When Reagan was the president-elect,” he says, “I was invited to speak to the Rochester Home Builders Association. They publicized me in their flier as Ronald Reagan’s best friend and adviser on national defense.
“One of the TV channels wanted to come down and interview me. It is one of the regrets of my life that they didn’t let that happen. They told the station I was a put-on.”
But the Home Builders Association did not tell everybody.
“My talk was that Ronald Reagan was going to do away with the interest deduction (on home mortgages), that we were going to tax that and build more guns.”
That’s when the person stood up, told “Albrecht” what he thought of him and stomped out.
From that evening on, Roeding has instructed the client organization to post a sentry at the door to inform any offended attendee that Werner Albrecht in fact was Bob Roeding and that his speech was all in fun.
“This poor guy drove home in a rage and by the time he got home we were all having a lot of fun,” Roeding says.
Stand-up comedy for years was an itch that Roeding could scratch a little bit, but not enough to satisfy the urge.
“I’ve been doing comedy since high school,” Roeding notes.
His father performed in vaudeville and toured France with a show troupe after World War I, so Roeding was drawn to show business. However, his wife’s doubts deterred him from trying to make a career out of making people laugh.
“I couldn’t see myself living that life,” she recalls, “and in the end it was the best thing that ever happened. He’s had the best of both worlds. Now that he is going into retirement, maybe this is a good place for him to be.”
Doors close, and doors open.
Roeding graduated from the University of Rochester in 1957. He sold pharmaceuticals for a while, then took a job selling ad space in the Miami edition of the New York Times.
That led to a management position with the Wall Street Journal, but when his career signs all began pointing to a transfer to New York City, his hometown, he came to Rochester.
“The Journal was going to run me all over hell’s half acre and then put me in New York, where I didn’t want to be anyway,” he says.
Next came 15 years of managing Case-Hoyt’s creative department. Then he and fellow employee Stites left and started Stites and Roeding/The Producers.
Stites and Roeding prospered and at one time had 14 employees.
“We were family here,” Roeding says. “Dick Stites and I were together 13 years. He’s a great guy and he was a good friend. He left the agency in April, and I wasn’t quite ready (to leave).”
Summer brought a planned merger with Adams, Colway & Associates, but the deal unraveled. In the meantime, he was diagnosed with prostate cancer.
“The day they took the bone scan, to see if it had spread, was a day I’ll never forget,” he recalls. “When I found out that it hadn’t spread, I could deal with it. I think that had to do with me deciding to not fight the (advertising) battle.”
He decided to close the agency.
“I realized that for the last two years this hasn’t been much fun. I’ve been telling young people most of my life, “Don’t work for someone if it isn’t fun.”’
Adds Roeding: “It’s tougher doing business out there today, more of a hassle. There are an awful lot of people fighting for a lot less work. I found that a lot of faces had changed, people I was comfortable with. And when the faces changed, there were people I was not comfortable with.”
Bigger agencies with expanded capabilities heightened the competition.
“As we got bigger, as we added more and more people, it got more complex and running the business fell on me–Dick was the creative guy. I did that about as well as I could do it, but I’m not sure I did it as well as it could have been done. But we were a very prosperous business; this business did extremely well.
“Since I’ve retired, I’ve gotten all kinds of calls from guys in the business saying, “I wish the hell I was going with you.”’
The people who know Roeding the best know precisely where he is coming from, where he is going and how he will get there.
“There are times when he’s funny, but he’s not a clown at home,” Madeline Roeding says of her husband. “But I don’t have the crazy sense of humor he has.”
Attorney Richard Horwitz, a former neighbor who remains a friend of Roeding’s, says if you find yourself in a foxhole, you would be lucky to have Bob Roeding there with you.
“He’s a very intelligent, sensitive person,” Horwitz says. “He’s very forthright and very successful in his business and with his family. He’s a great asset for his friends and for the community. I’ve known him for over 20 years, and he’s just a solid guy.”
Through all the opening and closing of doors, comedy, laughter and family have been three constants in Roeding’s life. His daughter Ginna, who lives in Albany, is a psychologist specializing in family counseling. His son, Eric, is a driver for Bluebird Bus Lines. Roeding and his wife also have two grandchildren.
“I guess I was happier maybe 10 years ago when this business was really starting to take off and I was able to play racquetball three days a week,” says Roeding, who before rupturing an Achilles tendon was good enough to win the Monroe County Senior Games racquetball championship.
“But I’m content with life,” he continues. “I don’t like getting older, but that goes with the territory.”
Roeding glances around the office, almost devoid of furnishings in the aftermath of closing the agency.
“This was a great place,” he says. “We used to have a phone booth with a Superman outfit in it. Eight or 10 years ago, when we were really rolling, we had a lot of fun. Our clients loved coming here.”
The agency is gone, but the laughter goes on.

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