ABRAMSON page 3
red-brick home on Edison, a well-
to-do address where Irvin lived
with his parents well into middle
His 1931 Northern High School
yearbook photo — head cocked,
jaw jutting forward — offers a hint
of the willful, unyielding manner
that marked his later years. And
yet the epigram accompanying the
photo brimmed with congenial op-
timism: A cheerful spirit is an ex-
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The family business prospered.
But while Irvin felt affection for
his mother, Ethel, he apparently
chafed at his father's authority.
"He did not like his father," said
Jean Rump, an apartment man-
ager in Southfield who had be-
friended Mr. Abramson in the
1980s. "He thought that he had to
do all the work."
When the stores were sold af-
ter World War II Irvin Abramson
was flush with cash. His attorney,
Mr. Raymond, estimated his take
at about $1 million, though there
is no way to confirm this.
He turned to Wall Street,
though to what degree is also un-
known. But if he invested $1 mil-
lion in stocks 50 years ago and had
accumulated $7 to $17 million
upon his death — as some media
reports contend —he could hard-
ly be considered a financial genius.
A seven-fold profit on $1 million
would represent an annual return
of about 4 percent.
"That's similar to what he
would have gotten from a bank
over that time," noted Marilyn
Shore, first vice president with the
West Bloomfield office of Pruden-
"If that's what he invested, he
didn't do anything fabulous with
it. Though I guess it's better than
if he had left it under a mattress."
Over the past 50 years, the
stock market posted about a 10
percent annual return. Had Mr.
Abramson sunk $1 million into
the market over this time and
reinvested his dividends, his es-
tate would have been worth about
A more likely scenario is that
he either did not acquire $1 mil-
lion initially or, if he did, he in-
vested only a portion of the money
"It was not unusual for people
then to invest speculatively," Ms.
Shore said. "But it would have
been unusual for them to have put
their entire inheritance in the
Mr. Raymond offers another ex-
planation. He said Mr. Abramson
Once told him that he had lost 75
percent of his holdings in the late
1950s, and then rebuilt his for-
After his parents died, Irvin and
his sister Edith continued to live
in the home on Edison. She en-
couraged his investment career
and became the one person he con-
In the mid-1970s, the pair sold
the home and, for reasons that re-
main a mystery, began moving
from hotel to seedy hotel, despite
their undeniable affluence.
When Edith died in 1986, Irvin
was devastated, and utterly alone.
Rabbi Bunny Freedman recalls
paying a shiva call to Mr. Abram-
son at a hotel in Inkster.
"To call that hotel a fleabag
would be flattering the place," the
"Mr. Abramson was the only
one there. It was obvious that he
was very bright and independent,
and you couldn't convince him
much to change his ways ... I also
had the sense he was a very lone-
Mr. Abramson soon drifted to
Southfield. He began to attend
Young Israel of Southfield, where
he accepted whatever food was of-
But when Rabbi Elimelech
Goldberg invited him to Shabbat
meals, he politely declined. He
would fib and say he had been in-
vited to the home of a nephew or
niece, though he had not seen
them in ages.
He attended minyans at Yeshi-
va Beth Yehudah, the Orthodox
day school in Southfield, where he
accepted free breakfasts the school
prepared. He liked the hard-boiled
eggs. And he seemed to go out of
field. But he refused to socialize
with the other seniors.
He lived frugally. While other
tenants had chandeliers in their
apartments, Mr. Abramson had
a bare light bulb. He would wear
the same fedora and stained sport
jacket each day. And he would dri-
ve his rusted pink 1975 Cadillac
to the Farmer Jack to retrieve a
soda-bottle deposit, but would buy
His days followed a steady rou-
tine. Every morning, he rose be-
fore dawn to fetch a Wall Street
Journal. He would then drive to
his broker's office to watch the
stock ticker. In the afternoon, he
would pore through piles of mail,
mostly financial reports from var-
In October 1987, he showed up
at the Short Hills, N.J., office of
Merrill Lynch broker Richard
Atwell. In his arms were 10 dou-
ble shopping bags containing mil-
lions of dollars in securities.
By last summer, assets in those
accounts alone totaled $9.2 mil-
lion, producing $300,000 in an-
nu al earnings.
In June, Mr. Abramson left his
Southfield apartment and re-
sumed his nomadic ways. After he
left one hotel, workers found 30
pounds of his unopened mail.
PHOTO BY DANIEL LIPPITT
On March 15, he
his way to attend chil-
Marvin Ru shton was wheeled his Caddy into
a Red Roof Inn parking
"I think he had more
Irvin Ab ramson's
last fr lend.
lot in Southfield. Mar-
faith in children than in
vin Rushton, a hotel
adults," said Rabbi
Freedman, then the yeshiva's ex- maintenance worker, helped un-
ecutive director. "He appreciated load his belongings into Room 119.
They struck up a friendship after
that kids don't have any guile."
Mr. Abramson made a series of Mr. Rushton began to pick up Mr.
donations to the school, ranging Abramson's prescriptions and de-
from $250 to $1,000. He also be- liver thick stacks of mail.
There, in his last days, to a man
gan sending money to two New
York-based groups: the Diskin. Or- he barely knew, Mr. Abramson of-
phan Home of Israel and the Rab- fered some insight into a most un-
binical Seminary of America.
"He told me that he dressed like
But he continued to rebuff the
relatives, rabbis and congregation he did so people wouldn't know he
members who offered help. He es- had money," Mr. Rushton said. "I
pecially resented those who sought think it was more a form of pro-
to change his destitute lifestyle, tection." From what? He did not
calling them fools or meddlers. say.
Mr. Abramson remarked that
"He didn't particularly like people
intruding or getting into his life," Jews had it tough in the business
Rabbi Freedman said. "He seemed world. "Because of who I am, it was c-
difficult for me to get where I'm at,"
satisfied to live alone."
Mr. Abramson moved to the he told Mr. Rushton. The elderly
Parkcrest Apartments in South- ABRAMSON page 10