Philanthropist Zucker dies

Jerry Zucker

Jerry Zucker, a self-made Charleston billionaire businessman, philanthropist and intellect whose global holdings ranged from a professional hockey team to one of Canada's largest retailers, died Saturday.

He was 58. The cause was cancer.

A native of Tel-Aviv, Israel, Zucker and his family came to the United States in 1952.

Growing up in Charleston and Jacksonville, Fla., Zucker had a mind for science and numbers that he parlayed into a low-key business empire with operations all over the globe.

A longtime resident of West Ashley, he was founder, chairman and chief executive officer of The InterTech Group Inc., a global conglomerate that is ranked as one of the country's largest privately held businesses. The North Charleston holding company owns textile, chemical, manufacturing firms and has estimated annual sales of $3 billion.

Zucker also was CEO of Toronto-based Hudson's Bay Co., Canada's largest department store chain.

Forbes magazine recently put Zucker's wealth at $1.2 billion, making him the 962nd wealthiest person in the world. He was not known to flaunt it. InterTech's worldwide headquarters is housed in a nondescript building off East Montague Ave.

'Maybe if I was a rock star, it would be different,' Zucker said in a rare on-the-record interview with The Post and Courier in 1995.

Edwin Pearlstine, a part owner with Zucker in the South Carolina Stingrays hockey organization, said Zucker's death 'is a real loss to this community.'

'He lived modestly, but he was one of the most philanthropic people in Charleston,' Pearlstine said. 'He just gave so much, it's just a tragedy. I'm very upset about it.'

Pearlstine said Zucker gave generously, but often quietly, to many local and international causes, including hospitals in Israel. He also had a philanthropic foundation in Syria, Pearlstine said.

Charleston Mayor Joe Riley called Zucker's death 'heart-breaking : for our community.'

'The loss of such a special citizen and generous leader in the prime of his life is just so tragic,' Riley said Saturday.

'He gave the gifts of his intellect which were extraordinary and he gave integrity and leadership to this community so freely,' he said.

Rotary Club of Charleston President Jermaine Husser called Zucker a 'leader's leader.'

'His wholehearted dedication to the Charleston community will be missed sorely,' Husser said.

Zucker, whose first job was a runner for a television station, was known as much for his keen scientific intellect as his business acumen. He had a triple major in mathematics, chemistry and physics from the University of Florida. He had more than 350 invention disclosures that led to numerous patents, most in the chemical, electronic and mechanical fields.

After earning a master's degree in electrical engineering, Zucker worked for Hudson Pulp and Paper in Palatka, Fla. He eventually moved to Connecticut-based Raybestos-Manhattan, an asbestos textiles and elastics company.

In 1982, Zucker, then a vice president with Raybestos-Manhattan, and a fellow executive bought the company's North Charleston plant and renamed the company RM Industrial Products. The company later was sold.

Zucker started The InterTech Group in 1983, according to state incorporation records. In a statement Saturday, Anita Zucker said she succeeded her husband as chairperson of the board and CEO effective immediately. Son Jonathan Zucker was named president.

Zucker was regarded as a devoted father and husband who served on numerous community boards. He was, at varying times, chairman of the College of Charleston's Jewish Studies Advisory Board, president of the Boy Scouts of America's Coastal Carolina Council, chairman of the South Carolina Aquarium, president of the Charleston Jewish Federation and volunteer of the year for Charleston Hotline crisis phone service.

In 1997, Zucker and his family spearheaded the $15 million conversion of a vacant retail center near Northwoods Mall into the Carolina Ice Palace, which remains the region's only public ice skating venue.

'I've always wanted to have an impact on the local community,' Zucker said at the time. 'This is one way we can benefit the community - by adding more family entertainment.'

On the home front, education long had been important to Zucker. His mother, Zipora, was a kindergarten teacher at Addlestone Hebrew Academy, which he attended. He also married a teacher.

Based on what he witnessed in countries such as India, where he had business interests, Zucker became an advocate for early education for 2- to 5year-olds. He felt that would lower the high-school dropout rate and ease many of the societal woes that have held back economic development in South Carolina.

While he shunned the spotlight, Zucker often courted attention with his high-profile business dealings, including some aggressive takeover bids in the textile industry.

Two years ago, he became a celebrity of sorts north of the border as he led the $878 million buyout of historic Canadian retailer Hudson's Bay Co., a national icon that has more than 600 stores and 70,000 employees. As a personal investor, Zucker dabbled in banks, an electric utility and other industries. He and his family owned two local restaurants, Tristans and Sunfire Grill & Bistro.

In a 1995 interview, Zucker summed up his philosophy this way: 'Always keep your promise,' he said. 'I can tell you in business that's the number one key to success.'

Zucker is survived by his wife, Anita; children Jonathan Zucker, Andrea Muzin and Jeffrey Zucker; and grandchildren Stella Muzin and Jeremy Zucker. He is also survived by his mother, Zipora Zucker; his brother, Jacob Zucker; and his sister, Rochelle Marcus.

Reach John McDermott at jmcdermott@postandcourier.com or 937-5572.