The advertising world grieved after a letter bomb took the life of Young & Rubicam exec Thomas J. Mosser. A North Caldwell, N.J., fireman comforts his wife, Susan Mosser (inset), outside the couple's home. GRAY FLANNEL AD WORLD CHANGED FOREVER

By Published on .

It used to be in America that the man in the gray flannel suit left the office at 285 Madison or along the Avenue somewhere when the work was done, maybe stopped at the Men's Bar of the Biltmore for a martini, and got on the six-something to his place in the suburbs, a house with a wife and a lawn and 2.7 kids and a dog.

And no one sent him a letter bomb in the mail that would kill him at 11 o'clock in the morning in his own kitchen on a lazy Saturday two weeks before Christmas.

Advertising wasn't that kind of business. Oh, people got sore at ads or annoyed by repetition or thought they could do better commercials themselves if given the chance. But no one hated ad people. Or wanted them dead. No one thought that way, not even Hollywood.

In the movies advertising agency executives were usually good guys. In the comedies they were Tony Randall and Rock Hudson. In the dramas they were Gregory Peck and Bill Holden and Clark Gable. And when the ad man was a baddie, he was someone suave like Adolphe Menjou. And how could you hate Adolphe Menjou?

In real life, ad people were special, too. Elegant men like David Ogilvy and Jock Elliott and guys named Doyle and Dane and Bernbach and women called Bunny Wells who stood the men on their ear. And others, too, who built the great agencies of Madison Avenue and created an industry.

Agencies like Young & Rubicam where Tom Mosser worked until nine days ago.

I've been talking with people who knew Thomas J. Mosser at work and with feds investigating his murder and trying to make sense of just what happened that culminated in the death of a man of whom I was told, "No one had a bad word for him. Not even a mediocre word."

As of this writing John O'Brien of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco & Firearms was saying they were convinced almost from the start that this was the work of the so-called Unabomber. "Every bomber has a different way of doing things, what we call his `signature,"' said Agent O'Brien. "This bomb went off Saturday and by Sunday they were saying it was the same individual [as in all those earlier bomb attacks]. The methodology was this: They examined that room [the kitchen at 15 Aspen Drive in North Caldwell, N.J.] and put all the pieces they could find in a bag. Then they took it to a lab and tried to reconstruct the device. ... And they autopsied the body. There was a lot of shrapnel."

I wondered, considering the distance the bomb presumably traveled and through how many hands it passed, just how stable was the explosive?

"It was not unstable," Mr. O'Brien said. "And people ask, `Was he [the bomber] trying to kill or maim?' You can't be that precise with a bomb, that he wants to maim this guy and kill that guy. So much depends on how close the device was, whether he was facing it, standing or sitting. All that goes into the mix."

At Y&R they were talking about Tom Mosser (and that's what everyone was calling him, "Tom") as "a tremendous crisis manager." What did that mean, "trouble shooter"? Yes, that was the word for it.

"His role was that of one of the 10 or 12 top executives worldwide in the company, absolutely invaluable, a total realist who provided wise counsel. The straightest of the straight shooters," was how Richard McGowan of Y&R put it.

Mr. McGowan, point man for Y&R on the story, refers to Tom Mosser as "your quintessential corporate counselor. When an executive needed support, he was there." Did that mean personal guidance, as well? No, said Mr. McGowan, "professional. He was the guy who would listen to a big problem and then he'd say, `OK, here's what we ought to try.' Tremendous under pressure and with an independent wit. Terrific under pressure, terrific at golf."

Someone else said, "Golf was a relatively recent interest. He picked it up in the last eight or 10 years because it was a game executives around here played and he felt sort of excluded. So he took lessons and he got very good at it."

He smoked. "Part of that was that he worked on the Philip Morris account. Didn't drink any more. He stopped some years ago on the advice of his doctor. There was a pancreas problem and he stopped, just quit cold. And all around him when people were raising a glass he took pride in saying, `No, not me. It's been X years since I've had one.'*"

He served in the Navy during the Vietnam War. In combat? One friend said, "I don't think so. He was just out of college and very young and became an admiral's aide. He was in Asia, I believe, but don't think in the fighting."

At Burson, I was told, "calls haven't stopped coming in. Executives are calling from GE, from Coca-Cola, from Gillette. People liked him. You always felt better coming out of his office than going in. Great sense of humor. Not formal or distant. People wanted to work for Tom Mosser."

Someone else said, "one of the smartest marketers ever."

He was an attractive man, lean, fit, about 6 feet tall, maybe 170. Married twice. The second time, to Susan, people said, was a "dream marriage. Just a model family. He was close to his other kids, too [from the first marriage] and had integrated them into the family as well.

"This time of year they'd get around together and sing carols."

In the photos, the house looked swell, too. "It was a house he built and that Susan designed. A large house atop a hill and the end of a cul-de-sac. A nice house suited to a man of his position."

Were there any surprises in Tom Mosser?

"The last thing you would expect to see was Tom Mosser's face on the front pages."

But that's where it was last week. Tom Mosser is news.

Because somewhere out there a killer with a grudge, and with certain highly developed technical skills, put a bomb into the U.S. mail along with all the Christmas cards and gift boxes and letters to Santa. Doesn't make much sense, does it?

Which is of little consolation to Susan Mosser and her kids or to Tom's other children or to folks who knew him socially or worked alongside the guy in a gray flannel world that, after this, no longer seems as sophisticated or elegant or as cushioned from the reality of angry people and violent times.

Young & Rubicam plans a memorial service for Mr. Mosser Dec. 21, 10 a.m., Church of Our Saviour, 59 Park Ave., New York.

In this article:
Most Popular