One year ago yesterday, my first magazine mentor and long-time friend passed away. The following is a tribute article that I was asked to write for Robert Kennedy Publishing last April. Whether you live, work or play in the fitness or bodybuilding industry, I'm sure you'll be able to appreciate how much this man means to so many people.
I will never forget the first day I met Robert Kennedy (“Bob” to those of us who worked for him). It was over 16 years ago when I walked into the old office building on Airport Road in Toronto – the day that changed my life. Despite having just graduated from journalism school, I felt quite unprepared when I entered the MuscleMag International headquarters, which was housed on top of the infamous MuscleMag store. There were boxes and boxes of old magazines, tear sheets, clippings, file cabinets, signed pictures of Arnold Schwarzenegger, and sexy girl covers everywhere. There was even a backdrop set up in the corner of the hall (out in the open) for impromptu photo shoots as well as a weight set and workout bench in case anyone wanted to “pump up” between meetings or on lunch… I had absolutely no clue what was to come of our meeting, and I certainly had no idea what crazy, exciting times were in store for me at his fitness and bodybuilding empire.
I would have died for any job in the magazine world at the time. All I needed was a chance, and Bob is the one who gave it to me. I had no real work experience, very little professional writing experience, and not one Rolodex contact to my name. But as soon as I met Bob, I knew I had found my niche. After spending two hours in the hallway with Bob (because that’s also where he kept his desk) he showed me probably every photo he had ever taken at either a bodybuilding show or sexy cover shoot. He also shared some of his trade secrets like the fact that he started his magazine business on basically what he had in his wallet, with no prior experience, and how MuscleMag was at first a newsletter of sorts. I felt at home and like somehow we could relate.
He hired me on the spot.
I never knew at that time how much Bob’s passion for the written word and beautiful imagery would have such an impact on me in a few years time. A short time after joining the company, Bob approached me about starting a mainstream men’s magazine from scratch. I eagerly took on the challenge and we started American Health & Fitness magazine (now Maximum Fitness), which lasted over five years.
His ability to see my potential continued to blow me away. At which point the position of editor-in-chief of Oxygen became available. Now only familiar with the men’s fitness world, I was surprised when Bob approached me to take over his women’s title. I was completely flattered and wondered how I would ever be able to run a magazine as good as he always envisioned it would be and that he held in such high regard. But for some reason, Bob had faith in me even when I didn’t. That’s what kept me going. If something didn’t work then we’d try something new.
I learned so much from Bob about life and work. He was my mentor, my boss, and ultimately my friend. I will never forget how much it meant to me when Bob and Tosca Reno (the Eat Clean lady) flew to Bahamas to attend my wedding in 2002. Bob said, “Of course we’re going – we can shoot on the beach!” when I sluggishly gave him an invitation. I felt honored to have him come to celebrate such an important time in my life and I will forever think of him and how much of a talented photographer he was when I look at my wedding pictures.
There was never a dull moment when Bob was around. Even if there were times when he challenged my cover photo choices, or when he would remind me to “stick with your diet girl!” and make sure I did a little weight training at least every day. Bob was unique and definitely a ‘tough love’ kind of guy. But no one can deny that he knew what he was talking about when it came to “losing the flab and tightening the right spots.” He believed in healthy living and strengthening the inside as well as out. I truly believe that if it were not for Bob Kennedy I wouldn’t be where I am today. In fact, I also met my husband in the hallways of MMI, and I know Bob always took a little credit for that (smile).
Bob was extremely passionate about anything that involved working out, weight training and eating clean. He was all about commitment and “living the lifestyle” and I’ll never forget his zest for life. I think if the angels above could pass along just one message to him from me it would be:
I will always remember how you took me under your wings when I didn’t know any better. I spent almost nine years working for you on your various magazines and the impact on my life you’ll never know. I will always cherish the time we spent mulling over photos at the old light table, arguing about the next theme of an issue, and traveling to industry shows like the Arnold Classic and Olympia for photo shoots and some fun. I owe a ton to you, Bob. You will be truly missed.
My thoughts are with Tosca and family at this time and always.
Kerrie Lee Brown is a sought-after health and lifestyle expert. She writes books, blogs and articles and is published all over the world. Kerrie Lee is also a heart-health survivor and has appeared on numerous radio and television shows sharing life-saving tips for women on how to listen to their bodies and slow down. Kerrie Lee is a mom and proud Canadian living in Denver, Colorado.