Samuel Weinblatt

[Age 93] Career insurance agent catered to minorities when Jim Crow laws made it hard for them to get coverage.

He was "not just their insurance man but a trusted adviser and a member of their community," his son says

November 15, 2007|By Frederick N. Rasmussen | Frederick N. Rasmussen,Sun reporter

Samuel Weinblatt, a retired insurance man who forged lasting relationships with Baltimore's Chinese community whom he befriended and served for more than 60 years, died Thursday of myasthenia gravis at Sunrise Brighton Gardens of Pikesville. He was 93.

Mr. Weinblatt, the son of Russian immigrants, was born and raised in a Bond Street rowhouse.

While attending City College from which he graduated in 1932, Mr. Weinblatt befriended Jimmy Wu, who became a lifelong friend and a well-known restaurateur and whose New China Inn on North Charles Street was a popular destination for decades.

After graduation from high school, Mr. Weinblatt began selling insurance for the Sun Life Assurance Co. of Canada, at a time when Jim Crow laws made it difficult for African-Americans and other minorities, including the Chinese, to obtain insurance.

During the 1930s, Mr. Weinblatt was reportedly the only white insurance agent in Baltimore who would sell insurance to the Chinese, and because of his willingness to do so, he was nicknamed "the Chinese Jew" and "Mr. Sam."

Aided by his friendship with Mr. Wu who introduced him to residents of Baltimore's Chinatown, between Park and Mulberry streets, and encouraged by his employer, Mr. Weinblatt started regularly calling on the neighborhood laundries and restaurants that they owned and operated.

"I did it as a livelihood, but it turned out to be a love affair and a family affair. I was invited to their births, weddings and funerals," Mr. Weinblatt said in a 1998 interview with The Jewish Times.

"Mr. Weinblatt has over the years learned to understand Chinese when it is spoken and can greet his Chinese friends in the language but ... does not read or write the language," said a 1962 Sun profile.

He passed out bilingual business cards. One side was printed in English while the reverse contained the same information in Chinese characters.

"My non-Chinese friends think it is some sort of crazy gimmick. And when I give one to a new Chinese acquaintance who doesn't know me, he simply grins, but they love it because they know it is legitimate," Mr. Weinblatt said in The Sun interview.

Lillian Kim, who was a prominent member of Baltimore's Chinese-American community and author of Early Baltimore Chinese Families, told The Jewish Times in 1998 that "he's always been a part of the Chinese community. Most of us bought a policy for 20 years, payable in 15. That's how we got to know him."

He was "not just their insurance man but a trusted adviser and a member of their community. He was at home with them, and was treated like family," said a son, Rabbi Stuart G. Weinblatt of Potomac, who gave the eulogy for his father at services Sunday at Brighton Gardens. In addition to helping with naturalization and citizenship issues, Mr. Weinblatt also sponsored a number of Chinese immigrants. He was the only non-Chinese member of the On Leong Association.

A liberal Democrat with a lifelong interest in politics, Mr. Wein- blatt liked to reminisce about attending the presidential inaugurations of Harry S. Truman, John F. Kennedy, Lyndon B. Johnson and Bill Clinton.

He marched behind the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. during the historic 1963 March on Washington, and at its start, reportedly told the civil rights leader, "I'm with you all the way."

"He came home and told us about it, and we said, `Sure you did, Dad.' But the next day in The Sun there was a picture of Dad dressed in a white shirt right behind Martin Luther King," said his daughter, Janice B. Altman of Owings Mills.

"He was so close to Dr. King that they kept asking him not to step on his heels, and that picture has been reproduced in magazines and books so many, many times since 1963," she said.

"He taught each of his four children not to be afraid, to go to the front, to take chances, to have chutzpah, to have class, feel for the little guy," his son said in the eulogy.

"When complaining about someone or to customer service, he said to always be careful to be sure that a person would not lose their job. He believed in fairness and justice," he said.

He was a member for 80 years of the Baltimore Hebrew Congregation and often traveled to China.

Richard Sher, a longtime WJZ-TV reporter, has been a family friend for years.

"He was devoted to his family, Judaism, and fairness and equality for everyone. He was an extremely cordial and polite gentleman," said Mr. Sher. "The curtain has come down on a class act."

After moving to Brighton Gardens in 2003, Mr. Weinblatt volunteered at the Pikesville Library, was a reader for the blind, and established a Yiddish Club at the retirement community.

His wife of 53 years, the former Toby Angster, died in 1994.

Also surviving are two other sons, Robert L. Weinblatt of Baltimore and Paul N. Weinblatt of Pikesville; 12 grandchildren and a great-granddaughter.

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