Taubman remembered as businessman, family man, giver
Each of A. Alfred Taubman's children represented the best parts of him in different ways: His eldest, Robert Taubman, was the business mind. His youngest son, William Taubman, was the philosopher. His daughter, Gayle Taubman Kalisman, got his art and creativity.
But during the funeral for the billionaire developer, mall pioneer and philanthropist Tuesday, it was clear Taubman's legacy extended well beyond his own family.
"What pleases me most," said Kalisman, "is beyond our family and friends, future generations of people all over the world who never got a chance to meet my father or feel one of his big bear hugs will benefit from his life."
More than 1,000 friends, family members and supporters from around the world attended the funeral for the billionaire, who died Friday at 91 in his Bloomfield Hills home. He spent his life traveling around the world, meeting new people and brokering deals. Friends and family admired that he died two miles from the place where he was born in Pontiac.
"He was a true Michigander," said Gov. Rick Snyder, one of the speakers. "He accomplished so much, he could have made his home anywhere in the world. But he stayed here."
Taubman's funeral was one that would befit a beloved dignitary. Attended by federal judges, state legislators, noted business leaders — men and women — and local personalities, the entire proceeding was projected onto two giant screens. A live feed was beamed back to employees at the Taubman Centers company.
The two-hour ceremony was held at Congregation Shaarey Zedek in Southfield. Attendees entered the temple to music performed by members of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra. As the casket was taken out, a temple musician played "When The Saints Going Marching In" on the piano.
Later Tuesday, the family gathered at the Townsend Hotel in Birmingham to receive friends as they will do on Wednesday from 12:30-3:30 p.m. and 5:30-8:30 p.m. A religious service at 7 p.m. Wednesday at the hotel.
Since news of his death, accolades have poured in for the man who donated millions of dollars to various causes, including the Detroit Institute of Arts, the University of Michigan, Lawrence Technological University and Wayne State University. He was a leader in bringing stem cell research to Michigan and worked to fight illnesses such as Lou Gehrig's disease.
Many of the buildings in Detroit and across the state bear his name and his mark was left on some of the region's most prominent developments. Taubman properties in Michigan include Great Lakes Crossing Outlets in Auburn Hills and Twelve Oaks Mall in Novi. That list once included Fairlane Town Center in Dearborn and the Mall at Partridge Creek in Clinton Township.
"I never had any doubt about what I wanted to do with my life," said his son, Robert. "I wanted to do what he did."
Robert now runs the company.
This year, Forbes magazine listed Taubman as the 577th richest person in the world with a $3.1 billion net worth. For years, he has remained on the annual rankings of the wealthy.
His death came just days after a groundbreaking to celebrate the renovation of the Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning at UM and the addition of the A. Alfred Taubman Wing. His $12.5 million gift helped to fund the project. The donation is part of a $28 million renovation and expansion at the Ann Arbor school to help students collaborate better using classroom and studio spaces.
As a philanthropist, Taubman "did not just write big checks," said Mary Sue Coleman, former president of UM.
"As a donor and adviser he was totally engaged," she said. "He was simply a very tough taskmaster."
Taubman served in the Army in World War II and studied art and architecture at UM. In 1950, he launched a retail real estate development company. His first project was a freestanding bridal shop in Detroit.
Throughout the 1980s, the businessman acquired Woodward & Lothrop, a Washington, D.C.-based department store chain, for $277 million; Wanamaker, a Philadelphia-based department store chain, for $174 million; two Manhattan office buildings; and three malls, The News reported.
In 1983, he gained the legendary Sotheby's auction house, which was struggling financially. Among the achievements during Taubman's tenure: updated record-keeping; art education, storage and real estate transactions; and expansion of what could be auctioned off — including treasures once owned by celebrities. The result: An auction of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis' belongings fetched $34.5 million in 1996. The blockbuster sale included $211,500 paid for a fake pearl necklace.
But he faced legal troubles. Taubman was convicted by a federal jury in 2001 for fixing prices at Sotheby's Auction House and served 9 1/2 months in prison before being released in May 2003.
Strangely enough, his son William Taubman said some of the best times he ever shared with his father was when he was serving his prison sentence. The family arranged a schedule to have someone with Taubman as often as possible so he was never alone.
"There were no phones, no business, we were together, father and son," said William Taubman. "Even with pain, I look back on that as some of the best hours we had."
In addition to his sons and daughter, Taubman is survived by his wife, Judith Taubman; stepchildren Tiffany Dubin and Christopher Rounick; nine grandchildren; and one great-grandson.
Interment was at a private family service at Clover Hill Park Cemetery in Birmingham.
The family has asked that donations in memory of Taubman be sent to the A. Alfred Taubman Medical Research Institute, 109 Zina Pitcher Place, 5017 A. Alfred Taubman Biomedical Science Research, Ann Arbor, 48109. For information, call (734) 615-7282 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.