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Allan Kalish, 94, an advertising icon who ‘should have been a third baseman for the Phillies’

Allan Kalish had a rough start in life, but he vaulted to success in the advertising world. How did he do it? He was a great listener and had a winning way with people.

Allan Kalish
Allan KalishRead moreCourtesy of the Kalish Family (custom credit)

Allan Kalish had no illusions of grandeur. Seven years ago, the ace Philadelphia adman looked back on his life with withering candor.

“I should have been a third baseman for the Phillies,” he posted online. “There was only one reason I wasn’t. Simply put, I just wasn’t good enough. Good fielding, no hitting.”

With the creation of the advertising agency Kalish & Rice in 1962 during Philadelphia’s Mad Men days, he hit one out of the park, so to speak. But even that achievement got self-effacing treatment.

“After a couple of acquisitions and a merger,” he wrote, “I became the president of the third-largest ad agency in Philadelphia. Before you get too impressed, we probably would have been the 303rd agency in New York.”

Mr. Kalish, 94, of Mount Airy and later Audubon, Montgomery County, an icon in city advertising circles, died Tuesday, Oct. 29, of complications from Parkinson’s disease at Shannondell at Valley Forge, where he had lived since 2014.

“I remember Allan well,” said fellow Philadelphia adman Elliott Curson. “He was a dynamo in the business. A great people person with an amazing mind for marketing. He could sell anything.”

Kalish & Rice catered to clients such as Strawbridge & Clothier, Philadelphia Electric Co., Philadelphia Gas Works, Wawa, First Pennsylvania Bank, and Armstrong World Industries.

After selling the agency to Earle Palmer Brown in 1984, Mr. Kalish advised Fortune 500 companies on sales and marketing strategies.

In 2002, he and partner Rick Mosenkis launched WorkZone, a software company that allows ad agencies and other firms to manage projects with clients online.

“We got in a car and drove around to all the ad agencies within an hour of the city,” Mosenkis said. “He knew everybody. They all said, ‘He is my favorite person in the world.’"

Mr. Kalish was successful, Mosenkis said, because of the way he interacted with people. “He was a great listener. He thought bigger for CEOs than they did for themselves. Helping people was his greatest joy.”

Born in Pittsburgh, he never knew his father. Until age 11, he lived in a farmhouse across the Allegheny River from Kittanning. “Depression home with 16 adults, and me, and only one bathroom,” he blogged.

He graduated from high school in Reading, where his mother had moved, and enrolled in Lafayette College. He served in World War II for 30 months, including at the Battle of the Bulge, and was honorably discharged before turning 21.

He returned to college and was a Big Man on Campus. “No one else cared,” he blogged, “except for my Mother.”

He started his career in sales at Philadelphia Magazine and in 1954 turned to broadcasting at WCAU Radio. “In his heart, he was always a radio man,” his family said.

He was chairman of AC Publishers Inc., which published Seven Arts and Business Philadelphia, two monthly magazines.

“Ended up in the ad agency business & loved it,” he blogged in 2012, and added: “Today? I’m old enough to be called a guru in the ad and marketing community. What that really means is that all my peers/competitors are dead or living in Florida.”

He offered two tips. First, learn the client’s business. Second: “If you ever have a partner, try to find one who is smarter than you and with whom you have similar standards of right and wrong. Think about that, too, if you’re considering marriage.”

Mr. Kalish was a former president of the Philadelphia Advertising Club and was inducted into the Broadcast Pioneers of Philadelphia Hall of Fame in 1994.

He served on the boards of the Police Athletic League, Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia, and Philadelphia Sports Congress.

Mr. Kalish was married to Beth Kalish in 1954. They had two children before divorcing in 1971. He married Leslie Mayer in 1994. They divorced in 2016.

Besides his former wives, he is survived by a daughter, Betsy; a son, David; stepchildren Jason and Emily Mayer; and a granddaughter.

A memorial service will be at 2:30 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 24, at the Germantown Friends Meeting House, 47 W. Coulter St. Burial is private.

Donations may be made to the Southern Poverty Law Center via