My friend, Robert Slater

Robert Slater 1943-2014: Writer and journalist for Time Magazine and The Jerusalem Report.

Robert Slater. (photo credit: Courtesy)
Robert Slater.
(photo credit: Courtesy)
I MET Robert Slater in 1989, the year my first novel “Jephte’s Daughter” was published.
Before that, I had heard of him, and glimpsed him from afar when I was battering down the doors of the Government Press Office in Jerusalem’s Beit Agron for press credentials. At the time, I was a columnist for the Intermountain Jewish News of Denver, quietly going through freelance hell.
When my book came out, Bob very kindly asked to interview me. I felt as if I was meeting royalty. And in a way I was.
Bob was head of the Foreign Press Association and a member of the Time Magazine bureau in Israel.
Despite the difference in our stature and our political and religious beliefs, Bob could not have been kinder or more giving.
Improbably, we became dear friends who regularly met over lunch to analyze our agents’ advice, agonize over editorial comments, and plot our way to our next book contract.
Bob was always working on something new. I was amazed at his energy and resourcefulness, and how much of himself he invested in each project. He never liked downtime. His work was also his hobby.
He loved being at Time, loved all the people he worked with. Often he told me that it was his dream come true. But he loved writing books more.
Bob was born in New York on October 1, 1943 and grew up in South Orange, New Jersey. He immigrated to Israel in 1971, working for UPI and then for Time.
In many ways, his life was every writer’s dream. Jetting around the world, he would interview movie stars and world-renowned business leaders. He flew in private jets with millionaires like legendary Hollywood agent Michael Ovitz, General Electric CEO Jack Welch and business magnate Donald Trump. He had lunch with them on the terrace of their mansions.
And, sometimes, it wasn’t easy. Rich, powerful men were often prickly and unpredictable, threatening him with lawyer’s letters one day, and then calling him on the phone to invite him out to lunch the next.
He never let it go to his head. He was, above all, a professional. He didn’t write hatchet jobs, even when he knew that was what the public wanted and it would have ensured a bestseller and huge royalties.
But he also didn’t write puff pieces, even though he knew these men had tough lawyers.
What he did do was carefully, meticulously, honestly gather information and write a fascinating, intelligent, in-depth portrait of the men and women who were the subjects of his books. He gained a reputation, richly deserved, for being fair.
As far as I know, except for George Soros (who was later said to have regretted it), no man or woman, however rich and famous, ever declined to give him an interview.
HIS FIRST few books were about the giants of Israel. He wrote perhaps the definitive book on Yitzhak Rabin, which is going into its umpteenth printing. He wrote about Moshe Dayan and Golda Meir. He wrote a series of books with his beloved wife and first sweetheart Elinor that are probably going to be bar and bat mitzva presents until the next millennium: “Great Jewish Men,” “Great Jewish Women” and (alone) “Great Jews in Sports.”
He was in demand as a writer of business books and was at the top of his field, writing about the greatest movers and shakers of our time: John Bogle of Vanguard Mutual Funds, John Chambers of Cisco, business celeb Martha Stewart, and the Walmart heirs, just to mention a few.
But no matter how successful he was, he always worried about that next book contract.
Even when he was diagnosed with leukemia eight years ago, he treated it as a nuisance that got in the way of his writing.
He was unfailingly brave throughout his challenging treatment, never considering it an ordeal or asking why me? Throughout, he managed to write a regular interview feature for The Jerusalem Report, as well as volunteering to mentor young journalists at The Jerusalem Post.
One of our rituals was attending the Jerusalem Book Fair together every two years, especially the Aspen Forum where editors and agents got to tell us about themselves.
He sat quietly in the back, never getting up and introducing himself, content to sit among the wannabe writers and young editors and just listen.
No one would ever know talking to Bob that he was the author of 30 books, most of them still in print. And it is characteristic that only now did I discover he received an MSc degree in international relations from the London School of Economics in 1967.
He didn’t really like to talk about his achievements, except for what he considered his greatest: his loving family, Elinor, Miriam, Adam, Rachel and their partners; his wonderful grandchildren, and the good times they had together in their summer house on Lake George, New York.
When he passed away on March 25 at age 70, the world of journalism and writing became a poorer place. He will be missed not only by his family, but by everyone who ever knew him, including some of the most important people of our century. I feel bereft he is gone, and fortunate that I was lucky enough to call him my friend. 
Naomi Ragen is the author of ten bestselling novels, the latest of which is The Sisters Weiss