Isadore Familian, a Los Angeles industrialist, philanthropist and Jewish community leader who provided decades of support--and inspired others to do likewise--for the University of Judaism and the City of Hope, has died. He was 90.
Familian died of natural causes Thursday at his home in Los Angeles.
Born in Chicago to Russian immigrant parents, Familian arrived in Los Angeles in 1913, when he was 2. As a boy, he worked in his father’s junk business after school.
When the family went into the plumbing supply business, the teenage Familian proved to be an adept salesman and dropped out of Roosevelt High School at 16 to work full time for Familian Pipe and Supply Co.
In 1941, he became a partner in the family business, at a time when it was nearly half a million dollars in the red. But the family eventually bought Price Pfister Brass Manufacturing Co., and Familian’s father, David, put him in charge.
Under Familian’s leadership, the plant expanded from 50 employees to 1,500 and became one of the largest manufacturers of brass bath and kitchen hardware in the world. In 1969, Price Pfister became a subsidiary of Norris Industries and Familian continued as chairman of the board.
Familian, family members said, viewed his success in business as the platform for his philanthropic activities.
Since the 1947 founding of the University of Judaism in Hollywood, Familian served on its board of directors and various committees. In the 1970s, he spearheaded a fund-raising campaign to build the university’s 28-acre campus on Mulholland Drive, which is named for Familian and his first wife, Sunny, who died in 1979.
“He was an outstanding fund-raiser, first of all because of his own generosity,” said David Lieber, president emeritus of the university, “and, second, because he was such an attractive personality. He was a very charismatic person.”
“He was perhaps the brightest, most articulate person I have ever met,” said David Marmel, a member of the board of regents for the City of Hope National Medical Center in Duarte, whose Children’s and Bone Marrow Transplantation Center is also named in honor of Familian and his first wife.
“I have listened to Isadore Familian speak, in the 35 years I knew him, maybe 300 times, and I always learned something. A man like Isadore Familian comes once in a lifetime.”
Marmel said that Familian, who served on the City of Hope’s board of directors, “gave millions, and he raised countless many more millions” for the medical center.
Indeed, Marmel said, Familian’s passions were “his family, his friends and raising funds.”
“In this community, in a positive sense, he was the Godfather,” said Marmel, noting that “if Isadore Familian would call you, one would be reluctant to pick up the phone, and God forbid he asked you to have lunch, because you knew what that meant.”
In recognition of his fund-raising efforts and more than 60 years of service, the City of Hope last fall announced that a street at the sprawling medical center would be renamed “Isadore Familian Way,” the first such honor in the City of Hope’s 88-year history.
Over the years, Familian was a founding board member of City National Bank, served on the board of the Los Angeles Music Center Operating Co., chaired the United Jewish Welfare Fund drive for Greater Los Angeles, served as a board member of the Jewish Community Foundation and was involved with the United Crusade and the March of Dimes.
“If people are fortunate enough to acquire any kind of wealth, some of this should go back to the community, not in death but in a lifetime,” Familian told The Times in 1971. “We are not here to make money.”
Familian’s philanthropic model was his father, who was involved with the City of Hope as early as 1917.
In the late 1940s, Familian and his brother, George, financed the construction of a chapel named in their father’s honor at Adat Ari El in Valley Village, the oldest synagogue in the San Fernando Valley.
“My father,” Familian once recalled, “had a tremendous compassion for people. His philosophy was based on the Jewish religion, and even though his earnings were often meager, if someone needed a dollar, you could always depend on David.
“My father once told me the perfect balance of time was 25% for the family life and 25% for business. But we never attain the relaxing life because the community takes 50% of the time. But we are very pleased that this has occurred, because we take the position that life becomes fuller if you give more.”
Familian is survived by his wife, Shirley; daughter Sondra Smalley of Los Angeles; son Gary Familian of Monterey; stepchildren Edie Bronson of Beverly Hills and Richard Baskin of Santa Monica; nine grandchildren; and eight great-grandchildren.
A funeral service will be held at 11 a.m. Monday at Hillside Memorial Park, 6001 W. Centinela Ave., Los Angeles.