Philanthropist Morton Mandel P'73, H'89 dies at 98
Morton Mandel’s donations created several centers and established multiple faculty chairs and fellowships
Morton L. Mandel P’73, H’89, the chairman and CEO of the Jack, Joseph and Morton Mandel Foundation and a major donor to the University, died at the age of 98 on Oct. 16.
The Foundation gave $45 million to Brandeis, including gifts that created the Mandel Center for the Humanities and the Jack, Joseph and Morton Mandel Center for Studies in Jewish Education, according to an Oct. 17 Brandeis NOW article.
Mandel Foundation donations also established “three endowed faculty chairs, and numerous student fellowships,” University President Ron Liebowitz wrote in an Oct. 21 email to the Brandeis community.
Morton Mandel was born and raised in Cleveland, Ohio. Although he enrolled in Adelbert College, now Case Western Reserve University, in 1939, he left his studies to go into business with his brothers, per an Oct. 20 Cleveland Jewish News article. Shortly after, World War II began and he enlisted in the U.S. Army.
The Mandel brothers, Jack, Joseph and Morton, bought an automotive supply company from their uncle in 1940 for $900 and turned it into Premier Industrial Corporation, per a Mandel Foundation press release. The brothers created the Foundation in 1953, the same year they made their first donation to Brandeis, according to the BrandeisNOW article. In 1996, they sold PIC to Farnell Electronics for $3 billion, with the brothers receiving roughly $1.8 billion, per an Oct. 16 CJN article. Two years later, the brothers founded a private trust company, Parkwood LLC, of which Morton Mandel was the co-founder, chairman and CEO. The BrandeisNOW article described Mandel’s life as “a rags-to-riches tale crowned by remarkable generosity.”
In 2013, almost 75 years after beginning college at CWRU, Mandel completed his bachelor’s degree, the Oct. 20 CJN article explained. His capstone project to earn the degree was co-authoring his book, “It's All About Who You Hire, How They Lead … and Other Essential Advice from a Self-Made Leader,” and defending his thesis in front of CWRU faculty. In an Oct. 18 CJN article, his son Thom Mandel recounted his father walking in the Class of 2013 commencement ceremony. “When he got his diploma, he got a standing ovation from the entire room. I think that could be as happy as I ever saw him,” he said.
University President Emeritus Jehuda Reinharz told the Justice on Oct. 25 that Morton Mandel was an “example of someone who relishes [in] education, respects education … formal and informal, in whatever area.” After serving as Brandeis’ president from 1994-2010, Reinharz became the president of the Mandel Foundation in 2011 and on Oct. 24, he was named the Foundation’s CEO.
Reinharz’s personal relationship with Morton Mandel was one of the reasons the philanthropist was drawn to the University, Reinharz said, but he also believed in Brandeis' mission. Morton Mandel was also connected to the University because his daughter, Amy Mandel ’73, attended Brandeis, his wife Barbara Mandel P’73, H’19 is a trustee and the University awarded him an honorary degree in 1989.
“I never asked Mort for money, we only talked about ideas,” Reinharz recalled of his relationship with Morton Mandel during his time as Brandeis’ president. “And his interest was, ‘What idea can possibly contribute to raising the bar at Brandeis? What can be transformative at the institution?’”
One of the answers to that question came in the form of a $22.5 million gift in 2007, which created the Mandel Center for the Humanities, according to the Mandel Center website.
“It is no accident that his largest gift to Brandeis was to support the Humanities,” Liebowitz wrote in an Oct. 26 email to the Justice. “Though a successful businessman, he believed the study of the Humanities was essential to appreciate and excel in whatever one did for a career.”
Morton Mandel believed that the humanities are losing popularity among students and parents because people do not see humanities fields as leading to job opportunities, Reinharz explained. Reinharz called that doubt “a highly mistaken notion.”
“What Mort would have wanted to see at Brandeis, and other institutions, … is to ignite the passion … for interdisciplinary learning,” Reinharz said.
“[Morton Mandel’s] belief in the humanities as the core to the liberal arts and to being a truly educated person is something our students should know, appreciate, and think about whenever they visit the Mandel Center for the Humanities on our campus,” Liebowitz wrote.
At Brandeis, Mandel Foundation gifts also established the Jack, Joseph and Morton Mandel Professorship in Jewish Education; the Jack, Joseph and Morton Mandel Professorship in Jewish Education Research; the Jack, Joseph and Morton Mandel Professorship in Jewish Educational Thought; the Barbara and Morton Mandel Graduate Fellowships in the Humanities and the Barbara and Morton Mandel Graduate Fellowships in English and American Literature, according to the BrandeisNOW article.
Overall, the three Mandel brothers, with Foundation gifts and individual donations, have donated nearly $1 billion “to Jewish, educational and cultural causes,” per the Foundation press release. The Foundation’s mission is to “contribute to the flourishing of the United States and Israel as just, inclusive, compassionate and democratic societies, and to improve the quality of life in both countries.”
“If there is one thing that describes … the Foundation, it’s investment in leaders. We don’t believe that we create leaders, but we invest in leaders to try to improve their understanding of how to lead, how to think across disciplines, how to make a change for the better,” Reinharz explained.
Among Morton Mandel’s many awards and honors detailed in the Foundation press release was his induction into the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 2011, along with receiving the 2019 Carnegie Medal of Philanthropy.
Morton Mandel survived his brothers, Jack and Joseph, who died earlier this decade at ages 99 and 102, respectively. The Foundation press release says that he is survived by his three children, eight grandchildren and two great-grandchildren. A memorial service was held in Cleveland on Oct. 20.