Zanvyl Krieger is 85 now, a quiet man who has led a quiet life. Yet he has managed to leave a considerably more lasting imprint on the world than some people who go through life much more noisily.
"The bottom line in life is satisfaction," he says reflectively. "People get it in different ways."
He admits to satisfaction as he looks around Baltimore and sees his name on some of the city's enduring institutions. There's the Krieger Building on the corner of Maryland Avenue and Mount Royal, constructed with money he donated to the Associated Jewish Charities. There's the Krieger Mind/Brain Institute at Johns Hopkins University. The Krieger Eye Institute at Sinai Hospital.
And beginning officially at midnight Tuesday, the Kennedy Institute, one of the region's most renowned health facilities, will become the Kennedy Krieger Institute -- a permanent and very public thank you to Zanvyl Krieger for $5 million he recently donated and for years of service to the institute.
There are many other less prominent examples of Mr. Krieger's philanthropy around town. He helped establish the Jewish Heritage Center, a cultural museum on Lloyd Street. Chizuk Amuno Congregation, where he is a longtime member, can thank him for its gymnasium, auditorium and day school. He funds scholarships for the learning disabled at the Jemicy School. He is a contributor to the National Holocaust Memorial, the Baltimore Community Foundation, the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, the Peabody Institute, the Jewish Theological Seminary.
"If we could do one thing to make Baltimore a better place, it would be to clone Zan Krieger," says Dr. Guy McKhann, director of the Mind/Brain Institute, which has benefited from Mr. Kreiger's generosity to the tune of $7.5 million.
Yet the public profile that Mr. Krieger does have has little to do with any of these worthy causes. A lawyer who still comes into his downtown office at Weinberg & Green five days a week, he is best-known as an investor in Baltimore's sports teams, the man who helped bring major league baseball and football to the city and was once part-owner of both the Colts and the Orioles.
In that characteristically muted way of his, Mr. Krieger explains .. his interest in professional sports in the context of what he thought was best for the city of Baltimore.
"It adds to the prestige of the city, it establishes the city as big league," he says of his efforts that began in the late 1940s and peaked in 1958 when the Colts won their first National Football League championship and again in 1966 when the Orioles won their first World Series. "In this country if a town doesn't have a big-league team it's not a big-league city. It does a lot for the city. It creates interest, it just rounds out the city's activities."
Sitting in the board room of his law firm, he stares down at his hands folded on the table in front of him as he speaks. On his right ring finger shines the gold of the 1958 football championship ring, inscribed with "23-17," the score by which the Colts beat the Giants that thrilling sudden death year. On his left middle finger is the gleaming onyx and diamond of the 1966 World Series ring, the series in which the underdog Orioles beat the cocky L.A. Dodgers in four straight games.
All these years and all these good works later, and Zanvyl Krieger smiles with delight as he shows off his rings. "I've got about three or four more rings at home, football and baseball and all that," he says. But these are the ones he wears all the time. "They bring about a lot of pleasant memories."
Not that dwelling on memories is a major preoccupation for this octogenarian. He remains dedicated to the future. Just a few months ago he got a call from Leonard "Boogie" Weinglass recruiting his help in the effort to bring a football franchise to Baltimore. "Boogie, I've been around the track and I don't feel like going around the track again," he told Mr. Weinglass, but ultimately agreed to lend his name, if not his checkbook, to the cause.
Clearly, though, it is philanthropy rather than sports that consumes Mr. Krieger's interest these days, and it is frequently a beneficence linked to the interests he has developed in the workings of the brain. "It's intriguing to me because it's virgin territory, it's pioneering," he explains. "I like to plant seeds, to get involved from the outside."
"He's interested in the new and the developmental," says Robert Hiller, director of the Zanvyl and Isabelle Krieger Fund (named for Mr. Krieger and his late wife), which operates out of an office at the Associated. "Simply to understand what the Mind/Brain Institute is requires a mind looking at the future."
"He has a vision hooked to advancing knowledge, particularly knowledge about how the brain works," Dr. Gary Goldstein, president of the Kennedy Institute, has found.
But Dr. Goldstein added that it doesn't hurt to throw in a few sports metaphors when asking Mr. Krieger for a donation.