Julian Pushkin

Age 82: Actuarial firm owner and pianist was an 'elegant man'

June 16, 2008|By Chris Emery | Chris Emery,Sun reporter

Julian Pushkin, owner of a Baltimore actuarial firm and a passionate pianist who nearly lost his hands to a shotgun blast, died of cancer June 12 at St. Joseph Medical Center. He was 82.

Mr. Pushkin was born in Baltimore and came from a family of musicians. His Russian grandfather played in the czar's royal orchestra, and his father played drums for the Baltimore Municipal Band and timpani in the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra. As a child, Mr. Pushkin also wanted to take up the drums, but his father encouraged him to study piano.

"He told my father to be a pianist," said his son Dr. Gary Pushkin of Guilford, "because a drummer takes an hour to set up before each show, but a pianist walks in with his hands in his pockets."

Mr. Pushkin attended City College as part of a music program and later transferred to Forest Park High School, from which he graduated in 1945. While in high school, he formed the Julian Pushkin Orchestra, a traveling big band group that played gigs in clubs in Baltimore and Ocean City. He met Celeste Amernick at a dance, and the two married in 1947.

Before World War II broke out, Mr. Pushkin studied under Gustav Strube, the first conductor of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra and a professor at the Peabody Institute. Grube was German-born and after their lessons, he and Mr. Pushkin would go to a pub in Mount Royal where German immigrants congregated as tensions mounted between the United States and Germany. "For a Jewish kid, it was kind of interesting," said Gary Pushkin.

During the war, Mr. Pushkin continued to play music professionally and worked as a chemist for Revere Copper and Brass. In the 1950s, he opened several businesses, including a pawnshop on Pennsylvania Avenue and a bar named Club 2300 on West Baltimore Street. He opened another club in Baltimore's Brooklyn neighborhood, and it was there that he almost lost his hands.

As his son recalls the story, a man came into the bar one day in 1959 carrying a sawed-off shotgun, furious that his girlfriend was cheating on him with one of Mr. Pushkin's employees. In the melee that ensued, the man shot Mr. Pushkin, severely injuring both his hands.

Doctors at Bon Secours Hospital wanted to amputate both Mr. Pushkin's hands, but Dr. Raymond Curtis at Union Memorial Hospital, one of the world's foremost hand surgeons, was able to save Mr. Pushkin's musically endowed digits.

"They operated on him, and he played music his whole life," said Dr. Pushkin, who became an orthopedic surgeon after hearing how the doctors saved his father's hands. "I thought long and hard about becoming a hand surgeon."

After the shooting, Mr. Pushkin took a job as a salesman for New England Mutual Life Insurance. He later worked for Pension Planners of Baltimore, one of the first pension-planning companies in the country.

In 1979, he opened an actuarial firm, Pushkin and Pushkin, in Timonium with his other son, Mark Pushkin of Cross Keys. The company specializes in the design and administration of pension plans.

He was a member of the Suburban Club, the Center Club and Temple Oak Shalom.

In addition to playing the piano every day, Mr. Pushkin enjoyed reading and crosswords. "He was a very elegant man," said Mark Pushkin. "Even though he didn't go to college, he was very educated. He was a collector of books, and he read several newspapers every day."

A memorial service was held yesterday afternoon at Sol Levinson & Brothers funeral home in Pikesville.

In addition to his wife and sons, he is survived by a daughter, Laurie Vanderwoude of Philadelphia; and six grandchildren.

chris.emery@baltsun.com

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