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Art

Remembering Keith Sachs, Who Gave Philadelphia A Very Memorable Gift

In 2013, Keith L. and Katherine Sachs scheduled an appointment with Timothy Rub. Rub, director and CEO of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, looked forward to seeing the museum trustee and his wife, but didn’t think much of it.

“Out of the blue, the two of them came into my office, sat down, and said, ‘We made a decision and wanted to share it with you,’” Rub says. Soon they were telling him that they were making a promised gift of 97 contemporary artworks, collectively valued at about $70 million and including works by Jasper Johns and Ellsworth Kelly, from their collection to the museum.

“They didn’t summon me to their house and didn’t make a lot of noise about this beforehand,” Rub says. “He said, ‘What do you think about that?’ I said, ‘Keith. I’m glad I’m sitting down.”

The grin on Keith Sachs’s face — which Rub says was big and wonderful — assured the museum director that the collector appreciated the gift’s impact. “I’ll never forget that,” Rub says. “It wasn’t about him, and it wasn’t about them. It was about what they could do for the museum and through the museum for Philadelphia.”

Sachs, the former CEO of a leading U.S. wine and spirits packaging distributor and a longtime American Friends of the Hebrew University president, died on Monday. He was 72.

Sachs and his brother Herbert ran the family business, the suburban Philadelphia-based Saxco International, a leading U.S. provider of packaging for the beer, food, liquor, and wine industries, until it was acquired in 2010 by a Houston company, the Sterling Group. He had been a trustee at the Philadelphia Museum of Art since 1988 where he was a “tireless advocate” for the museum and “a model philanthropist,” Rub said in a museum statement.

The museum called the gift “transformative” and renamed its modern and contemporary arts galleries the Keith L. and Katherine Sachs Galleries. “It’s certainly one of the nicest and most significant collections of contemporary art that have come to any museum in the last decade or so,” Rub says. He notes other collections in San Francisco and in Europe that were larger in scale, but says that Keith and Katherine’s was assembled with an eye toward works that prosperity will judge kindly.

“They were guided by two very thoughtful pairs of eyes and minds,” he says.

In a 2016 interview with the Forward about the museum’s exhibit “Embracing the Contemporary: The Keith L. and Katherine Sachs Collection,” Sachs said that one of the first works that he and his wife acquired, before they married, was by an Israeli artist. Their collection came to include several works by prominent Israeli artists. “But we didn’t go out and collect Israeli art,” said Sachs, who had a four-decade relationship with Hebrew University and the American Friends of the Hebrew University.

From 1996 to 2000, he was president of the nonprofit, which supports the university, and from 2000 to 2005, he served as chairman of its board. In 2003, Hebrew University awarded him an honorary doctorate.

“He was a true mensch, and I will miss him dearly,” says Beth McCoy, national executive director of the American Friends of the Hebrew University.

McCoy first met Sachs in 2003, when he chaired the nonprofit’s board. “He was a very special man with a remarkably generous spirit,” she says. “Together with his brother, Herb, Keith perpetuated his father’s dedication to Israel and the university,” she adds. “Through generosity of both time and treasure, Keith leaves an indelible mark on Hebrew University.”

Sachs and his brother supported several Hebrew University programs and projects: chairs in cancer studies, in computer science, and in brain sciences, as well as a computer science wing. “It’s hard to convey in words the depths of Keith’s kindness and how special and loved he was by friends and family,” McCoy says.

In addition to his support of Hebrew University, Sachs served as chair of the board of overseers at the University of Pennsylvania’s school of design, and he and and Katherine endowed a professorship of contemporary art at Penn, as well as supporting arts initiatives at several other Pennsylvania institutions.

To prepare for the remarks he will deliver at the funeral, which is scheduled for Thursday, March 8 at Joseph Levine & Sons Funeral Home in Trevose, Pa., Rub put a few words about Sachs down on paper: “principled, yet pragmatic, passionate, and also very proud. Proud of himself, of Kathy, of the family. Proud of Philadelphia, the PMA, and Penn. Proud to help all of them.”

The pride, though, wan’t self-centered, according to Rub. “It was never about him. He never wore his ego or his pride on his sleeve,” he says. “I always thought that was wonderful. It’s the mark of a principled person.”

Sachs is survived by his wife Katherine, his brother Herbert, his son David, and two daughters, Deborah Sachs Rothman and Judy Sachs, as well as five grandchildren.

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