FOR THE AGES
Max M. Fisher, 1908-2005
Max Fisher helped inspire a new way for suburbanites to
embrace the central city.
'Max Fisher was a unique
individual whose contribu-
tions to America, the Jewish
people and the Jewish. State
of Israel are the legacy of his
96 years. His was a man of
and vision who believed in
the strength of Americas
democracy and cared for the
welfare ofJews everywhere.
Max was a supporter of
agenda of fighting anti-
America's democratic insti-
tutions and forging a strong
U.S.-Israel relationship. We
will miss his counsel and
— Abe Foxman,
Max and Henry Ford II
in the 1980s
Special to the Jewish News
ie city was scared. Worse than
that, the city was panicking.
Detroit already had been per-
ceived as being in decline. But after the riots
of 1967, it was as if it had driven off a cliff.
A steady but orderly move to the suburbs
had turned into a headlong rush for the exits,
by both residents and businesses. Rumors of
violence to come, of cover-ups by police and
civic officials, of even more deaths, swirled
everywhere. Walking the empty streets of
downtown, you could almost touch the fear.
Elected officials seemed powerless to turn
it around, or even get it stopped. Everyone
appeared to be waiting for someone to do
And Max Fisher did. He decided he could
not allow this to happen to the city he hap-
pened to love. The result was Detroit
Renaissance, an organization of business
leaders who were persuaded, cajoled and
arm-twisted by Fisher and Henry Ford II to
get on board and save the city.
"The foundation for all the good things
that have come to downtown was laid down
then," says Ford Motor Co. President Edsel
Ford II. "When my dad (Henry Ford II) spoke
about those days, it was always with a great
deal of pride about being Member No. 1 of
"But he also said that without Max's pas-
sion, it wouldn't have happened. I think that
says a lot about what the dedication of a
few men can accomplish."
U.S. Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., who was then
just starting his political career as a member
of the Detroit City Council, remembers the
vision that Fisher brought into discussions.
"It went beyond keeping the city in one
piece, which was what most of us were
immediately concerned about," says Levin.
"He was looking past that, to how it would
all come together.
"But it was a vision combined with practi-
cality. The community had been badly shak-
en and it needed to get its bearings again,
its sea legs. There was a lack of faith. But
Max showed that when all the talking was
done, this is how it could be accomplished.
The vision was always grounded in specific,
Detroit Renaissance was created in 1970
with the goal of bringing about a physical and
economic rebirth of the city. The Renaissance
Center, its first major project, was named for
the vision that Fisher nurtured,
Paul Hillegonds, the organization's current
head, feels that without Fisher's "sustaining
interest, it all could have lost momentum a
long time ago."
"There was a sense of optimism that he
brought with him, a willingness to commit
more than money," Hillegonds said. "It was
his time and energy, too.
"Maybe the most important thing he
accomplished was to bring along a new
generation of leaders who were influenced
by him and inspired by the vision. It worried
him that the younger business leaders who
didn't go through those times wouldn't
understand why it had to be sustained.
"And maintaining a special relationship with
Coleman Young. When other members of the
business community were turning away from
the new mayor, Max felt that this was some-
one he could work with. That he had to work
with. It brought Detroit Renaissance into the
new order within the city."
Fisher served as chairman of the organi-
zation for 15 years and continued to guide it
as it redefined its mission. In 1991, for
example, it got out of planning and manag-
ing events, and turned entirely to strategic
investments in education, neighborhoods
and economic development.
"Max would be quiet for most of those
meetings," says Hillegonds, "but he would
listen intently. When he spoke, it always
steered the discussion to the direction he
felt it should go. It always had an impact."
"Max felt that the most important invest-
ment to be made was in the life of the city,"
says Levin. "Not just the massive projects
but things that give people hope for better
things in their daily lives."
Detroit is still a city that may fall short of the
vision that Max Fisher
had 35 years ago.
that, but they also recall
his repeated caution that
it took a long time to tear
the city down so it would
have to take a long time
build it back up.
"tt's unimaginable what
Detroit would have looked
like if there hadn't been a
Detroit Renaissance," says
Ford. "It's just inconceiv-
From the Riverfront
Apartments to the
Renaissance Center, the
Edsel Ford II
Detroit Opera House to
the stadiums, all sorts of
and along the Woodward
The fingerprint of
Detroit Renaissance is
on all of this and more.
As is the guiding
Paul Hillegonds hand of Max Fisher. NF