Publisher and philanthropist Robert D. Kephart died on June 8, 2004, at his home in Belleair Shore, Florida, surrounded by his wife and business-partner Janet, his son Patrick, his daughter Lara, and his best friend Jack Pugsley. Born September 9, 1934, in Albuquerque, New Mexico, and raised in Colorado, Bob was a self-educated man who started out as a bookkeeper for a railroad and ended up as a publisher and direct-market innovator who had a passion for liberty and moral rectitude. He treated the cancer that invaded his body as he treated government encroachment on our liberty: with an intensely researched, heroic, all-out battle.
Bob was a great American who spent his life and his money promoting individual liberty through publications, contributions to freedom-oriented organizations, and support for individual writers. He was a publisher of Human Events and an early supporter of Laissez Faire Books, the world’s largest publisher of books on libertarian topics. He founded Libertarian Review magazine and Books for Libertarians in the 1970s, influencing thousands of young people who became advocates of a free society. He was dedicated to the cause of liberty.
In the early 1970s, Bob concluded that he no longer accepted the political process as a road to social progress and became a hard-core libertarian. At that point he parted ways with the conservative publication Human Events and founded Kephart Communications, Inc. (KCI), a financial publishing firm focused on promoting free-market economics and hard-money investing. KCI published Inflation Survival Letter (later Personal Finance), which highlighted unorthodox investments that have become mainstream today.
As a personal note, many of the big names in libertarian circles got their start writing for Inflation Survival Letter, including Doug Casey, Adrian Day, Richard Band, Gary Alexander, Jim McKeever, and Don Hauptman. Mark Skousen was one of them. Bob gave Mark his start in the investment world, as managing editor of ISL from 1975-1980. Even after Mark left ISL to start his own newsletter, Forecasts & Strategies, Bob continued to be a friend and mentor until his death this month. Numerous other writers and philosophers were supported by Bob as well, but always quietly, from deep behind the scenes. A private, modest person, Bob shunned the limelight, and would probably be unhappy to read this article about himself! His focus was on helping others to shine. Even as he was battling cancer, he was enthusiastically involved in helping Jack Pugsley to establish his new project, the Bio-Rational Institute.
Intensely supportive of those who were anxiously engaged in a good cause, Bob offered both support and guidance to countless diverse causes, including Families Against Mandatory Minimums, Forfeiture Endangers American Rights, Human Rights Watch, Institute for Justice, National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty, Post-Conviction Relief, the American Civil Liberties Union, the Foundation for Economic Education, Cato Institute, Future of Freedom Foundation, R.A. Childs Fund for Independent Scholars, and Separation of School and State Alliance. In 1998 he won the eighth annual Thomas S. Szasz Award for Outstanding Contributions to the Cause of Civil Liberties.
Bob’s interests went far beyond public policy and promoting individual liberty. He was a writer, an artist, a one-time truck driver (!), a baseball player who tried out for the Chicago Cubs, a consummate host, a dedicated family man, a loyal friend. His paintings of children and beach scenes grace the walls of his home and the Christmas cards that he designed himself. His eclectic interests led him to support Doug Casey’s creation, The Eris Society, an organization of mostly libertarians who meet in Aspen every summer to discuss topics related to philosophy, history, science, arts, health, and education. As usual, his efforts remained behind the scenes, often in the form of providing financial support for speakers.
Many of us who have known Bob for decades knew his feisty side as well as his philanthropic side. Fiercely loyal to his friends, he could be fiercely critical as well when one of his friends disappointed him. You knew you were “on his list” again when you found a handwritten page from a yellow legal pad folded up, stapled, and left on your desk. These letters usually began, “I thought you were my friend,” and would continue in great detail as he outlined the offense. With the advent of the internet the yellow legal pad gave way to email, but the intent was the same: Bob never pulled his punches when he thought someone was slipping philosophically or morally. But his anger never lasted long, and the friendship always returned, stronger than ever. How I would love to receive one of those letters again! “I thought you were my friend,” it would begin, and before he could finish I would respond heartily, “I am, Bob, I am.”
For many personal reflections from Bob’s many friends, or to add your own memories about this remarkable man, visit Chris Witten’s “Robert Kephart Memorial Website,” at http://www.interesting.com/Robert-Kephart/.