BY DAVID WILLIAMS
Ken Roman is the former CEO of Ogilvy & Mather Worldwide, the advertising agency founded by David Ogilvy. He joined the firm in 1963 and served as chairman from 1985 to 1989. After 26 years with the firm, he joined American Express in a senior communications role before becoming a consultant, board director and author.
Mileage covered: 2.2 miles
Sunny, 28 degrees
A certain famed, AMC series about the world of advertising at mid-century never comes up. During my 10028 and 10128 walk with the former advertising executive, Ken Roman, we talk about Carl Schurz Park (a lot), what’s changed for the good (also a lot), and the bad (one guess*) in the neighborhood.
But MAD MEN? Nah.
I meet Ken in the lobby of his classic, 1929 apartment building that overlooks the southern end of Carl Schurz Park. He understands why we are meeting: to walk and talk as we set out on his rounds of a chilly, late winter morning. No cab. No car. No public transportation. Just the great New York mode of getting around: hoofing it.
Spend enough time in your community, especially once you’ve uncoupled from the moving target of a successful career, and those kids have kids of their own, you settle into a pattern. Groceries here. Shoemaker there. Cortado up the next block.
If you are lucky enough to live near a city park, you evolve a pathway, desire lines of the familiar and the reassuring.
We walk out the door and head east.
“I always go this way. I’m such a big fan of the park and the neighborhood and I go around promoting it all the time. I’m a bloody bore! I’ve raised some money for the park (through the Carl Schurz Park Conservancy) and I keep feeding them ideas. “
(You can take the adman out of advertising but you can’t take the ...)
We turn to walk north along John Finley Walk, a cold wind blowing off the river.
We take a minute to check out the smaller canine activity in the “SDR” (Small Dog Run) before we pause a moment in front of a park bench. On it is a plaque, carrying the words: “To Ken. Celebrating his love for this park. From Ellen on his special birthday“
“I always walk and check what I consider ‘my’ garden’. I picked out a bench and (my wife) Ellen, as a birthday present, gave me one. And we wrote the inscription in such a way that other people would get the idea that they could give a bench,” he notes.
Like many caring citizens in this city who find it hard to abide the sight of litter, Ken straddles the iron fence above “his” bench to pluck litter from within the still-brown plants in the bed.
Back on the move, I ask Ken about the advertising business. The author of an authoritative book on the founder of the agency where he hung his hat, “The King of Madison Avenue: David Ogilvy and the Making of Modern Advertising,” Ken speaks fondly of those glory days. And the profession as a whole.
“I LOVE the business. I loved working for an agency. Working with clients. I like helping people. I like working with ideas. That’s the essence of the advertising business. I like working with bright interesting people who are always coming up with ideas. They were fun, they were funny, they were bright.”
I ask him whether he ever took that enthusiasm to the front of a classroom. Did he ever teach?
“We had major training programs (at the agency). It was in our lifeblood because David Ogilvy insisted upon it. We had training programs in each office. We had training programs for regions. We had international training programs. We had training programs for our account people. For media people. For research people. For finance. We had training programs for our major clients. “
Returning to limning the glories of Carl Schurz Park, and the good works of the Conservancy, “I tell people who I take on these walks that this park is maintained so beautifully because it’s all volunteers. I think that what (Conservancy volunteers) Pat Nadosy (she’s just a FORCE!) and Judy Howard and Ellen Halstead and Banford Weissmann do ... . It’s a model for me. Volunteers take a responsibility for their neighborhood and have the government in some form help them. It’s a marvelous partnership. It would work everywhere.”
By now we have reached the northern end of the 15-acre park, *the Waste Transfer Station, looming like the skeleton of a winter palace through the bare trees.
“(This) leads me into the discussion of the Marine Transfer Station. The whole issue that every borough must take a responsibility I get. And the whole issue of not in my background yard. I don’t want it in my back yard. I don’t want it in YOUR back yard. It should be in an industrial back yard.”
After half a block of stewing silence, we head across York Avenue.
“We’re going to go the Vinegar Factory. I worship at the altar of Eli Zabar. I think he is a genius. I love going up there. I know every inch of the store.”
This is a one-item “round” for Ken. He has told me that the foodie within has been gently reined in by Ellen. I ask if she has sanctioned this visit.
“Yes. We have a very limited shopping list. We just came in from London …and I got up very early. I have been allowed to look for some special melons. “
Surprised to see that the footprint of his beloved Vinegar Factory has shrunk by about half since his last visit, it takes us a few minutes to get our bearings.
“We buy the breads here. I won’t buy any other kind of bread. I buy their soups. You freeze them. When we came back from London I went into the freezer: macaroni and cheese! Chicken pot pies were frozen.”
Before there was Seamless Web there was the Roman freezer.
Navigating the store’s altered retail landscape, Ken finds that the canary melon he is in search of is, alas, not to be found. A close second, a cavaillon melon ($5.99 a pound) will have to do.
Walking about the rest of the store to further see what has changed, Ken puts on the brakes at the now relocated cheese counter. Fearing he might have lost his zip code’s source of Irish cheddar, he is relieved to discover the Vinegar Factory still carries it.
His single item grocery list having been padded with Irish cheddar, we hasten to the checkout:
“We better get outta’ here before ... ”
Ken’s rounds at an end, we retrace our steps back to his apartment. I suggest walking back a different route but no… circling back will afford another opportunity to duck into his beloved Carl Schurz Park.
“I hug the park,” he says, no doubt meaning both definitions of that term.
We speak a bit about the theater he and Ellen caught while in London.
Meh: LES LIAISONS DANGEREUSES.
Two blocks from his home, we detour a bit, around and through the park. And shake hands as we end his rounds.
“I feel happy in my neighborhood. I feel happy in my home. I feel blessed to be here.”
I state the obvious: “You’re a very positive fellow, Ken Roman.”
He replies, also obviously: “Well, I’m a cheerleader!”