Raymond Perelman, the businessman and philanthropist whose name adorns institutions across the Philadelphia area, died Jan. 14. He was 101.
“We are deeply saddened by the loss of my father Raymond G., who passed away peacefully last night,” said Ronald O. Perelman, in a family statement. “Raymond was not only a renowned businessman and an extraordinarily generous philanthropist but most importantly for me, he was a mentor and a wonderful father, as well as a deeply loving grandfather and great grandfather.”
Born in Philadelphia in 1917, Raymond Perelman was the son of a Lithuanian immigrant father, Morris, who spoke no English. Morris Perelman founded the American Paper Products Co., which Perelman took over after graduating from the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania.
The company enjoyed fabulous success, and Raymond Perelman became extremely wealthy. Over the next few decades of his career, Perelman expanded his business, opening manufacturing plants and mills in the Philadelphia area and, in the 1960s, buying Belmont Iron Works, at the time one of the largest structural steel producers in the Northeast. All of his interests were eventually consolidated as part of RGP Holding Inc., of which he was president and chairman of the board.
He served, at various points, on the boards of directors for Temple University Hospital, the National Museum of American Jewish History and the Albert Einstein Health Center. He had stints as the chairman of the board for the Philadelphia Museum of Art, as general chair of the Allied Jewish Appeal and as a trustee at Penn Medicine, in addition to numerous other leadership posts.
Perelman was married to Ruth Caplan from 1941 until her death in 2011. They had two sons, Ronald and Jeffrey; the former is one of the wealthiest men in the world, reported to be worth more than $9 billion and a major donor to Chabad, while the latter was locked in litigation with his father that was rumored to have ended their speaking relationship. Perelman is survived by his sons, nine grandchildren and 10 great-grandchildren.
“I am saddened to hear of the loss of Raymond Perelman, one of our city’s great civic leaders and philanthropists,” Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney said in a statement. “Throughout his life, he demonstrated an exceptional commitment to Philadelphia’s advancement as a world-class city.”
During his lifetime, Perelman made a series of philanthropic contributions to institutions across Philadelphia, including to the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia. His original $3 million donation to the Raymond and Ruth Perelman Jewish Day School, with branches in Elkins Park and Wynnewood, was followed by additional pledges in excess of $3 million.
“Raymond was an incredibly generous philanthropist who understood the importance of supporting Jewish identity and investing in a Jewish future through the Jewish Federation and so many institutions in our community,” said Naomi Adler, president and CEO of the Jewish Federation. “He was an irreplaceable asset to our community and we were so fortunate to have known him.”
“Our school and its students continue to benefit from the Perelmans’ philanthropic vision to this day,” said Judy Groner, the head of school at the Perelman Jewish Day School.
He perhaps made no greater gift than a $225 million donation to the School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania, now named after him and his wife. That was just one among several gifts he made to his alma mater, including an endowed professorship in the medical school and to the Center for Advanced Medicine, home to the Abramson Cancer Center.
“I considered Ray a dear friend — both to me and the university — and I am so gratified to know he will be remembered for the countless lives he has touched through his philanthropy,” said Amy Gutmann, president of the University of Pennsylvania.
In 2014, Perelman made a $6 million pledge for the construction of the Raymond G. Perelman Center for Jewish Life at Drexel University (just two years after a $5 million pledge for the Raymond G. Perelman Plaza on campus).
“Ray’s generous contribution to Drexel University made the dream of a permanent home for Jewish life on our campus a reality,” said Rabbi Isabel de Koninck, executive director and campus rabbi at the now-completed center. “May Ray’s legacy continue to be a blessing for us, helping us to provide relevant, engaging and innovative pathways to Jewish life and learning for our Drexel students for years to come.”
In the same year, he made a $50 million pledge to the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia to establish the Raymond G. Perelman Campus and the establishment of three research endowments.
“Thanks to his generosity and advocacy, CHOP’s Raymond G. Perelman Campus has become the site of ambitious breakthroughs poised to transform the lives of children for generations to come,” CHOP President and CEO Madeline Bell said. “We are extremely grateful for his gracious spirit, enduring friendship and unwavering commitment to all children, especially those living in the city of Philadelphia.”
“I am saddened to learn of Ray Perelman’s passing, a friend to me and a friend to The Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts,” said Anne Ewers, president of CEO of the Kimmel Center, itself the recipient of $6 million in gifts from Perelman. “May Ray rest in peace knowing his legacy will bless generations to come.”
“Ray certainly knew the importance of good timing — and, of course, Ruth had something to do with that,” said Gail Harrity, president and COO of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, where the main building is named after Perelman and to which he donated $15 million. “He always seized the day, as a businessman, as board chair and in countless initiatives over the course of a lifetime that was as remarkable as it was long.”
“The National Museum of American Jewish History mourns the loss of our trustee emeritus and generous patron,” museum CEO Ivy Barsky and chair Phillip Daviroff said in a statement. “May his Only in America legacy live on at NMAJH and may his memory be a blessing.”
“Raymond Perelman is an individual, in my humble opinion, that symbolized and reflected a very important part of the period of prior to, and during and after, the Holocaust,” said Rabbi Avraham Shemtov. Shemtov, a leader in the worldwide Chabad movement for decades, is a close friend and confidante of Ronald Perelman.
“I was there yesterday,” the rabbi said, “just before he passed, and I looked at him, and I saw in him a reflection of a very important part of our history, of Jews in America. And that’s how we saw him off, just now in the funeral.”
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