Bob Walsh

Bob Walsh • Written September 2014

Bob Walsh has a diverse background in international relations, sports and radio and television. He currently is working behind the scenes to stress the importance of citizen diplomacy among the U.S., Russia and the countries in the Middle East—no easy task. His improbable life has been captured in the book titled “Who The Hell is Bob?” by Steve Rudman.

Bob is probably best known for his international diplomatic and humanitarian efforts. His organization partnered with TBS founder Ted Turner and the former USSR’s Ministry of Radio and Television (Gosteleradio) and the Ministry of Sports (Goskomsport) during the Cold War to produce the 1990 Goodwill Games in Seattle. Turner started the event in 1986 in response to the boycotts of the 1980 and 1984 Olympic Games.The Summer-long Goodwill Games in Seattle and the Northwest involved 54 countries and 23 sports. It also presented a major arts and cultural program, trade show and exchange program. Some 2,000 Soviet citizens lived in homes with Americans through a Rotary Club International program. The Goodwill Games was the largest exchange in the history of the U.S. and the USSR. President Jimmy Carter has publicly credited the 1990 Games with playing a significant role in ending the Cold War.

In 1992, Walsh partnered with Russian entrepreneurs and cosmonauts to launch a capsule on a Soyuz rocket from the Plesetsk Cosmodrome in Russia into orbit for seven days. The capsule landed off the coast of Washington and now resides in the Boeing Museum of Flight. The mission is believed to be the first commercial space flight in history. 

Walsh also conducted humanitarian efforts in Belarus, Russia, and the Republic of Georgia during and after the Cold War and helped bring dozens of young people to the U.S. for major medical operations. He also brought the first major western investment in Georgia, working with President Eduard Shevardnadze and then Ambassador to the U.S. Tedo Japaridze, resulting in the development of downtown Tibilis, the capital of Georgia.

Bob directed the first western relief efforts at the request of President Gorbachov after the Armenian earthquake in 1988, the first time American citizens and aircraft were allowed behind the Iron Curtain without visas since World War II. He also negotiated with the USSR to allow the historic swim of the Bering Strait by cold-water swimmer Lynne Cox in 1987 and the Goodwill Climb of Mt. Everest by Chinese, Soviet and American climbers, led by Jim Whittaker.

Today, youth unemployment in the Middle East is nearing 50% and Walsh is working to help alleviate the problems that underlie the current catastrophic conditions.

In the world of sports, Walsh first served as assistant general manager of the Seattle Supersonics from 1973 to 1977, produced many major local sporting events and has been credited by the NCAA for turning its annual college basketball tournament into “March Madness” when he was  executive director of the Host Committee for the 1984 Final Four in Seattle.

Walsh also is acknowledged as having given Seattle the still-unofficial nickname of The Emerald City—with a little help from broadcast buddies like Keith Jackson, Howard Cosell and Walter Cronkite, who joined in promoting this “great new name” on their broadcasts.

In his own broadcast career, following graduation from Marietta College in Marietta OH, he began as program director at WNAC Radio in Boston from 1962 to 1967 and later PD at KABC in Los Angeles from 1967 to 1973, where he hired NBA Hall of Famer Bill Russell to work at the station in 1969. Russell returned the favor by naming Walsh assistant GM of the Sonics in 1973 after Russell had moved to Seattle as coach and GM of the team.

Bob’s awards are numerous and prestigious, beginning with the Supreme Soviet Award from Chairman Gorbachov for his humanitarian activities during the Cold War. He was named an Honorary Citizen of the Republic of Georgia by former President Shevardnadze. And he received the World Affairs Council Award in 1990 for his work on the Goodwill Games, during which he overcame seemingly impossible odds to produce an event that was a huge success, both politically and economically.

Other awards include the Washington Man of the Year Award, the Marietta College Distinguished Alumnus Award, the Abe Lincoln Award for producing groundbreaking documentaries on ABC Radio and induction into the Washington State Sports Hall of Fame.