Tribute to A. Alfred Taubman

SPEECH OF HONORABLE SANDER M. LEVIN OF MICHIGAN IN THE HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES

FRIDAY, MAY 1, 2015

Mr. Speaker, I rise today to pay tribute to A. Alfred Taubman, who made immeasurable contributions to my home state of Michigan and to our nation. Mr. Taubman passed away on April 17, 2015.

Mr. Taubman, known to many of us as Al, loomed large in the business, cultural and religious life of Southeast Michigan and far beyond, but his beginnings were far more modest. The son of Jewish German immigrants, Mr. Taubman began working at the age of 9 after his father’s business went bankrupt during the Great Depression. After serving in the U.S. Army Air Corps during World War II, Mr. Taubman attended the University of Michigan, where he studied architecture.

The seeds of Al Taubman’s success were watered by these experiences–his father’s construction company, his studies in architecture, and the drive to work hard from a very young age. He also had a keen understanding of the needs and wants of people in America’s postwar economy, a period in which people migrated from cities to what would become thriving suburbs. Rather than building homes as his father did, Mr. Taubman focused on the shopping needs of suburban families, and helped to pioneer the growth of shopping malls.

Over the years, Mr. Taubman’s company designed, built, and operated shopping malls throughout the country. These malls, and other investments, brought him significant wealth– wealth he decided to put to use not just in his business endeavors, but in a vast array of worthy causes. Dr. Mark Schlissel, President of the University of Michigan, quoted Mr. Taubman as having said that his father taught him that “If I make a donation, I have given once. If I then solicit monies, I gave twice. And if my contribution has inspired others to support a good cause, I will have given three times.” The University of Michigan and its missions were especially close to Al Taubman’s heart, as Dr. Schlissel and the entire U of M community would attest. While it is not possible to list each and every institution which benefited so greatly from Mr. Taubman’s philanthropy, some of those which did in addition to the University of Michigan are Lawrence Technological University (where he also studied), Wayne State University, the College for Creative Studies, Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School, Brown University, the Detroit Institute of Arts, the Detroit Symphony Orchestra, the Jewish Federation, United Jewish Foundation of Metro Detroit and the Damon J. Keith Center for Civil Rights.

Simply listing the institutions to which Al Taubman contributed so much does not provide the full measure of the person he was. On his death I communicated these thoughts: “Al Taubman impacted the well-being of millions who never met him because of his unwavering support for the health and education needs of all Americans. He earned great wealth but never forgot his roots. He reached the top but maintained compassion for the underdog. He could be very blunt but even more sensitive about the feelings of the others. He was much beloved by all of us privileged to know him over many years.”

His commitment and active participation in the issues he cared about was on full display in the successful effort in 2008 to amend Michigan’s Constitution to legalize expanded embryonic stem cell research in my state. Mr. Taubman was not only a vital financial contributor to the campaign, but as the Detroit Free Press noted, “….. he crusaded in ways that couldn’t be measured by dollar signs, arguably providing stem cell advocates with their loudest voice during the 2008 campaign.” He organized a fundraiser with former President Bill Clinton, hosted meetings where people could learn more about the science involved, and weighed in with the press and with elected officials on the merits of embryonic stem cell research and the need for the constitutional amendment. The measure passed. There is no doubt that had Al Taubman not so fully invested his time, talents, and resources into the effort the present pioneering efforts now being undertaken at the University of Michigan would not be happening.

Mr. Speaker, the research at the A. Alfred Taubman Medical Research Institute on stems cells and beyond is a legacy of Al Taubman’s and is likely to benefit untold numbers of people in our lives facing chronic disease who will never have heard his name, but fame is not what he sought. His many endeavors have touched and will touch the lives of countless Americans. I encourage my colleagues to join in paying tribute to his many contributions to our country, and in offering condolences to his family, including his wife, Judith Taubman; his children William Taubman, Robert Taubman, and Gayle Taubman Kalisman; his stepchildren Tiffany Dubin and Christopher Rounick; and to his nine grandchildren and great-grandchild.

About the author