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Ralph W. Kalish, Jr.: Attorney, actor, playwright, restaurateur

/ Photo provided by Kalish family

By day, Ralph Kalish was a well-respected, successful patent attorney. By night, he was, well, he was anything — anyone — he wanted to be: restaurateur, playwright, actor.

In 2011, he became Branch Rickey, the former, longtime St. Louis Cardinals Baseball manager who changed the game forever by bringing Jackie Robinson into the formerly all-white major leagues.

Mr. Kalish wrote and starred in the one-man show, Winning History, reprising the role at Gaslight Square Theater in 2013. The show was originally scheduled to run two nights, but a third night was added when the first two sold out. The third show sold out, too. 

The multi-talented Mr. Kalish, who lived in St. Louis, died of an apparent heart attack on Sunday (May 4, 2014), while biking near the Chain of Rocks Bridge trail. He was 63.

His funeral service will be Friday at Congregation Temple Israel in Creve Coeur.

Mr. Kalish was drawn to Branch Rickey because of Rickey’s breaking of the color barrier in baseball. On his play’s website, he noted that as he came to know Rickey more fully, he appreciated him “as a true renaissance man whose mastery of both the game and business of baseball touched many and moved a nation forward.”

A man of many interests

Mr. Kalish, like Rickey, touched many lives.

He followed in his father’s footsteps, becoming a patent attorney. After working in the public and private sector, he joined his father’s law firm, Kalish and Gilster. The firm merged with Husch Blackwell in the 1990s, and Mr. Kalish remained. His specialty was protecting food industry clients’ intellectual properties, including advertising, copyright, trademark law and unfair competition.

“To know Ralph was to like him,” said Gregory R. Smith, CEO and managing partner at Husch Blackwell. “He was a person of great intellect and character.”

Mr. Kalish was also a certified mediator and a certified public accountant.

All of his areas of expertise came in quite handy when he decided to become an entrepreneur about two years ago.

He and his son Powell Kalish partnered with longtime restaurateur Chris LaRocca to form On The Rocks Restaurants, LLC, which operates two Crushed Red Urban Bake and Chop Shop restaurants, one in Clayton and one in Kirkwood. The restaurants cater to people who want tasty, healthy food fast.

Like his acting ventures, his role as a restaurateur was met with favorable reviews and packed houses.

Mr. Kalish was a member of the Library Associates of Saint Louis University, “a theatrical group that researches, writes and produces biographies of famous, infamous and obscure St. Louisans.” That was the description in promotions for Mr. Kalish’s 2006 portrayal of James Buchanan Eads, the engineer for whom the local Mississippi River bridge is named. It was a civic endeavor that first allowed Mr. Kalish to indulge his love of acting.

His charitable works, however, were not limited to performing. He was a member of the Veiled Prophet Organization, he led the board of directors of Central Institute for the Deaf, volunteered with Congregation Temple Israel, served as president of Friends of St. Luke’s Hospital and recently served four years on the Webster University School of Communications Advisory Committee.

“Ralph helped me be a good leader of the school,” said Eric W. Rothenbuhler, dean of Webster’s School of Communications. “He gave me good advice.”

Don’t hide your light

Ralph William Kalish Jr. was born Sept. 6, 1950, in St. Louis, the son of Ralph Kalish Sr., and Alberta Schield Kalish. After graduating from St. Louis Country Day School, he received an A.A. degree from Menlo College in 1970, a bachelor’s of arts from George Washington University in 1972, and both an M.B.A. and a law degree from Saint Louis University in 1979.

Before joining his father’s practice, he worked in St. Louis County government in the Lawrence K. Roos administration and later at Monsanto.

Mr. Kalish was a contributing author to Inside the Minds: Intellectual Property Licensing Strategies, and a much sought-after speaker. His speaking engagements included a 2004 presentation at the National Speaker’s Association titled Don’t Hide Your Light under a Bushel! Use Copyrights and Trademarks to Spotlight Your Way.

“He was just a wonderful human being, someone who valued every moment of life,” Rothenbuhler said, “and he talked about his family all the time.”

He was preceded in death by his parents and stepmother, Beverly Bissell Smith Kalish.

Survivors include his wife of 34 years, Eleanor Withers, and their three children, Manning Withers Kalish of Austin, Tex., Powell Withers Kalish of Richmond Heights and Graham Withers Kalish of St. Louis; two sisters, Karen Kalish of Clayton and Nan Goodman (Hon. Allan Goodman), of Culver City, Calif., and two stepbrothers, Carter B. Smith (Heidi Currier) of Wildwood and Scott R. Smith of Himrod, N.Y.

Mr. Kalish’s funeral service will be at 11 a.m. on Friday at Congregation Temple Israel, #1 Rabbi Alvan D. Rubin Dr. (at Ladue and Spoede Roads), in Creve Coeur. A reception will follow the service.

Memorials would be appreciated to St. Luke’s Hospital or Central Institute for the Deaf.

Gloria S. Ross is the head of Okara Communications and AfterWords, an obituary-writing and design service.