Philanthropist Goldsmith dies in crash Lear jet went down at Aspen airport

February 15, 1991|By David Michael Ettlin

The crash of a chartered Lear jet a half-mile short of the airport in Aspen, Colo., has killed Baltimore businessman and philanthropist Harold N. Goldsmith, co-founder of the Merry-Go-Round Enterprises clothing-store chain and owner of Eastern Savings Bank.

A publicity-shy executive who was a leader in fund-raising for Jewish charities, Mr. Goldsmith, 48, grew up in East Baltimore above his father's grocery store. He was one of the "Diner" guys whose friendship was the focus of movie director Barry Levinson's 1982 film of the same name.

Mr. Goldsmith was in his late 20s and had already begun making his fortune in real estate when he joined in a partnership with Leonard "Boogie" Weinglass, a friend from the old Hilltop Diner crowd who had begun a retail clothing business geared to youth and counterculture fashions.

From Mr. Weinglass' eye for fashion and Mr. Goldsmith's genius for real estate grew a retail kingdom now numbering 675 stores -- Merry-Go-Round, Attivo, DJ's and Cignal -- and the basis for a personal fortune that has been estimated at $100 million.

Mr. Goldsmith owned a hilltop mansion in Green Spring Valley but lived with his second wife and youngest child in Aspen.

He was returning home Wednesday evening from a business trip to Las Vegas when the small passenger jet, approaching Aspen's Sardy Field in a light snow, crashed and burned short of the runway. Both crew members and Mr. Goldsmith -- the only people aboard -- were killed.

Investigators from the National Transportation Safety Board, Federal Aviation Administration and local agencies were investigating the accident -- the third fatal airplane crash in Colorado's mountains and the second near Aspen in the past week.

"He was upbeat, and business was great everywhere," Mr. Weinglass said of his partner last night. "He was at the top of his life."

Howard "Chip" Silverman, one of about 25 people who were part of the Hilltop Diner crowd and author of a book following its members' lives, said, "Harold was still achieving and still succeeding. His philosophy of charity was, 'How many people can we reach for the longest time?' "

Michael D. Sullivan, Merry-Go-Round's president, said, "Lenny was more the free spirit, the merchant.

"Harold was the businessman, a very driven person. He was the one that had the vision to build a national chain of stores to really accelerate the growth, to take advantage of the explosion of regional shopping malls that were being built all over the country," he said.

Mr. Goldsmith's holdings were rooted in ownership of a few Baltimore row houses -- the first of which he received as a bar mitzvah gift when he reached 13, the traditional Jewish age of manhood.

Mr. Silverman recalled that while their friends were making $2 an hour, Mr. Goldsmith was making real estate deals, buying and selling a property in agreements reached over the telephone and turning a $1,000 profit before he even got out of bed in the morning.

"He could add up rows and rows of numbers in his mind . . . he'd win bets like that," Mr. Silverman said.

Mr. Goldsmith graduated from City College in 1960 and majored in English literature at the University of Maryland. He worked first in his family's real estate business, then in partnership with a friend before crossing paths with Mr. Weinglass, who had already launched the first Merry-Go-Round store in Atlanta.

Conflicting ways -- including Mr. Weinglass' carefree lifestyle and Mr. Goldsmith's penchant for arriving for work by 8 a.m. -- brought an agreement that only one of them could run the business. As a result, each took turns at the helm. But problems ensued, and they brought in Mr. Sullivan to take over day-to-day management.

Although he remained co-chairman of Merry-Go-Round, Mr. Goldsmith turned his attention to banking over the past decade.

In 1981, he bought Eastern Savings -- a small Southeast Baltimore financial institution with $6 million in assets that mostly made loans to working-class homebuyers -- and presided over an expansion that boosted assets to hundreds of millions of dollars.

In 1981 he headed the annual Associated Jewish Charities and Welfare Fund campaign, and he was hailed by a fund executive as "a man who combines the energy of a new generation of Jewish leaders with a strong sense of Jewish identity."

He was a member of the boards of several of the group's charitable programs and had quietly helped build several Conservative synagogues in Israel, according to his father-in-law, Marvin Himmelstein.

Mr. Goldsmith's first marriage, to the former Rona Yospe, ended in divorce.

He is survived by his wife of 11 years, the former Beth Himmelstein; three children, Adam Drew Goldsmith and Julie Beth Goldsmith, both of Baltimore, and Henry Josh Goldsmith of Aspen; a sister, Ilene Powers of Baltimore; and his mother, Bess Goldsmith of Baltimore.

Services will be held at 11 a.m. Sunday at the Chizuk Amuno Congregation, 8100 Stevenson Road.

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.