Philanthropist Marjorie Fisher dies at 92

Holly Fournier, The Detroit News
Marjorie Switow Fisher was born in 1923 in Louisville, Kentucky.

Marjorie Switow Fisher, co-founder of the Max M. & Marjorie S. Fisher Foundation, based her philanthropy on a simple phrase:

“All giving starts with your heart ... and then you use your head.”

Fisher followed her heart into a lifetime of creating and overseeing millions of dollars worth of endowments, grants and community programs benefiting residents near her homes in Detroit and Florida.

She died in her sleep Sunday, June 12, 2016, at age 92 at her home in Palm Beach, Florida, surrounded by family.

Her cause of death was not released by the Max M. & Marjorie S. Fisher Foundation, which announced her passing.

Fisher and her husband of 52 years, Max M. Fisher, co-founded their namesake foundation in 1955, shortly after the 29-year-old Mrs. Fisher moved from Louisville, Kentucky, to Detroit to marry. The foundation was endowed in 2005, shortly after Mr. Fisher’s death.

As founding chair of the foundation, Fisher oversaw more than $70 million in grants committed with nearly 50 partners on three continents, according to an obituary released early Monday by the foundation.

The organization quickly became known as a leader in the family foundation philanthropic community, and Fisher along with her family were recognized with numerous awards.

All four generations of women in her family in 2013 received the Women’s Funding Network’s “Changing the Face of Philanthropy Award,” according to foundation officials. That year, the family also was honored with the Outstanding Foundation of the Year Award for the Greater Detroit Region.

In 2014, Fisher received the inaugural Founder’s Award from the Community Foundation for Palm Beach and Martin counties in Florida.

Awards aside, giving back to the community was Fisher’s obvious route in life.

“You are here for a reason — to help other people,” she frequently said, according to foundation officials. “Everything in life is based on love and what you can do to help others. The rest is just cream — sometimes sour cream — but it’s all cream.”

Fisher’s dedication to others extended from Detroit south to Florida.

In Detroit, Fisher and her family “adopted” the Brightmoor neighborhood, committing funds for blight removal and providing facilities and social services. The family also bestowed gifts to the Detroit Symphony Orchestra later in Mrs. Fisher’s life.

“Marjorie Fisher was the embodiment of philanthropy, giving millions of dollars to help her fellow metro Detroiters,” Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan said in a statement. “Her generosity has helped provide summer jobs and life-changing experiences to our city’s young people through our Grow Detroit’s Young Talent program. Marjorie helped keep the music going at the Detroit Symphony Orchestra, and was a tremendous partner in efforts to revitalize the city’s Brightmoor neighborhood. Detroit is a better place because of her kindness and generosity.”

In Florida, the Marjorie S. Fisher Tooth Fairy Mobile Unit continues to provide underprivileged children with much-needed dental care, while new Boys and Girls Clubs in West Palm Beach and Riviera Beach give community children a safe space to gather. One is named The Max, while the other is known as The Marjorie.

Mrs. Fisher was born Nov. 5, 1923, in Louisville, Kentucky, to a family in the theater business. She had a “flair for fashion” from an early age, graduating at the top of her class from the Marjorie Webster Junior College.

In 1953, she moved to Detroit with two young children from her first marriage to marry Max M. Fisher, a man 16 years her senior.

“A southern belle in the industrial heartland, she dressed better and entertained better than the established matrons in the community,” foundation officials said in their obituary. “She combined these gifts with wit and a down-to-earth common sense that won her friends from across the community.”

Mrs. Fisher was a “voracious reader,” consuming everything from financial press to tabloid magazines. When she wasn’t reading, Fisher was known for hosting meals, entertaining friends and family at both her Detroit and Florida homes.

Family members often told her the tabloids were usually incorrect, according to foundation officials.

“It doesn’t matter,” Mrs. Fisher was known to answer. “It makes for good dinner conversation. The worst thing you can do is be boring.”

Mrs. Fisher is survived by her children: Mary Fisher, Phillip Fisher, Julie Fisher Cummings, Marjorie Fisher Furman, Jane Sherman as well as 37 grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

A celebration of Mrs. Fisher’s life will be held at 4:30 p.m. Tuesday in the Orchestra Hall at the Max M. & Marjorie S. Fisher Music Center. She will be laid to rest in private ceremonies.

In lieu of flowers, the family suggests gifts be made to the Brightmoor Alliance, Detroit Symphony Orchestra or the Palm Beach County Food Bank.

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