Jack Spitzer, the Seattle banker-philanthropist who died last Saturday at 86, was one of a rapidly disappearing breed in community life: a regular guy who could walk tall across the world stage without forgetting who he was or where he came from. He could lead American delegations to Rome and Cairo, make deals for millions of dollars, then turn around and wash dishes in a Seattle hospital on Christmas Day, so that Christian workers could take the day off.
Born in New York, raised in Depression-era California, Spitzer spent a lifetime moving between the worlds of high finance and Jewish activism. After serving in World War II, his first job was as a field director for the National Conference of Christians and Jews. He left to join his father in real estate and went on to make millions in banking. His communal role continued in a volunteer capacity, as an officer and then president of B’nai B’rith International. Staffers there and at other organizations he led described him as an unusual lay leader who understood and respected the professionals’ role.
His generosity was prodigious. In addition to B’nai B’rith and the Seattle federation, he was deeply involved in Israel’s Ben-Gurion University and in programs that delivered health care to South African blacks, Negev Bedouins and others. He was one of the Democratic Party’s top givers in Washington State. And yet he never imposed his views. The Spitzer Forum, the Hillel program he created to train Jewish students in public activism, gave equal time to all views from left to right.
Spitzer’s generosity and humility were a model to countless peers and protégés. Those who knew him were privileged to learn the meaning of good works from a master.