NEW YORK - Max Fisher, one of the most prominent leaders of American Jewry in the 20th century, died yesterday at the age of 96 at his home in Franklin, Michigan.
Fisher, who made millions of dollars in oil and real estate and poured them back into Jewish philanthropy and the city of Detroit, was sought out for advice by Republican presidents.
Fisher's fortune was estimated at $775 million in Forbes magazine's annual ranking of the nation's 400 wealthiest individuals in 2004.
Fisher was born July 15, 1908, in Pittsburgh to immigrant Russian parents. He grew up in Salem, Ohio, and attended Ohio State University on a football scholarship. He moved to Detroit in 1933 to join his father's oil reclamation business as a $15-a-week salesman, forming his own gasoline company with two other men in 1933.
His contributions and connections in the Republican Party gave Fisher considerable influence in the party and he became the personal friend and adviser of several presidents.
In 1974, in the midst of the Watergate affair, President Richard Nixon asked for Fisher's help, after he was accused of anti-Semitic statements. Fisher came to his aid despite the fire he drew from the Jewish community.
According to "Quiet Diplomat: A Biography of Max M. Fisher," by Peter Golden, President Gerald Ford and his secretary of state, Henry Kissinger, asked Fisher in 1975 to help heal a diplomatic rift between the United States and Israel over relations with Egypt.
"My fundamental responsibility was as an American," the book quoted Fisher as saying. "Then as an American Jewish leader. And, finally, I had my love for Israel."
In 1988, Ford and George Bush Sr. celebrated with Fisher on his 90th birthday.
Fisher headed several of the major Jewish-American organizations, including the United Jewish Appeal, the Council of Jewish Federations and the American Jewish Committee. He founded the National Jewish Coalition, an organization of Jewish Republicans, and was one of the top donors to the Foundation for Florida's Future, created in 1995 by Florida Governor Jeb Bush to promote conservative ideas.
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