Editorial: Al Taubman, RIP

THE DETROIT NEWS, April 21, 2015

Mall developer gave not just his money, but also his heart, to the many charitable endeavors he supported

Place A. Alfred Taubman’s name among the great philanthropists who used their wealth to make Detroit and this region a better place to live.

Taubman, who died Friday at age 91, is being honored in funeral services today as a man whose heart was as big as his wallet.

In the tradition of the Dodges, Fords, Fishers and Davidsons, Taubman made a lot of money in Detroit, and gave a lot of it away to support culture, economic development, education and medical research. He also was a loyal backer of Israel.

Taubman grew up in humble circumstances in Pontiac and was an early pioneer of the concept of grouping retail stores together in a shopping center, a development that would eventually help give rise to the prosperous suburbs surrounding Detroit and other big cities.

He also became one of the world’s most sophisticated art collectors, a passion that eventually led to his acquisition of the renowned Sotheby’s auction house.

But as he is remembered, it will be his generosity that seals Taubman’s place in history.

The University of Michigan was a particular beneficiary of his philanthropy. Taubman gave UM $142 million in various gifts. Most significant was the money he provided to start the A. Alfred Taubman Medical Research Center, which is doing ground-breaking stem cell research to find cures for neurological disorders, including Lou Gehrig’s disease.

Recognizing that Michigan law limiting stem cell research would have to be changed for the center to reach its potential, Taubman also bankrolled the state ballot initiative to get approval for stem cell work.

Other education facilities also owe a debt to Taubman, including Lawrence Technological Institute, Wayne State University and the Center for Creative Studies in Detroit.

Taubman was also a major donor to most of the region’s cultural institutions.

Even after his association with Sotheby’s led to a federal conviction for collusion — a charge Taubman vigorously disputed — and a 10-month prison sentence, he did not retreat into bitterness. Instead, he redoubled his efforts to give away his fortune and provide leadership in this community.

Taubman always followed his money. If an organization was the recipient of a donation, it generally got his advice and guidance as well. That was particularly true of the UM research center, where Taubman became a frequent presence and a powerful daily advocate for its work.

This was a good man, one who lived his life well, and personified the capitalist whose drive for personal wealth and success provided so many spin-off benefits for others.

Taubman made a lot of money, yes. But he gave a lot of both it and himself away, and in doing so, helped enrich our community and provide hope for a future free of some of today’s most dreaded diseases.

For those who push the myth that the 1 percent is all about greed and selfishness, Al Taubman is the perfect rebuttal.

About the author