Robert G. Friedman, 90

Robert G. Friedman, of Fort Lauderdale, Fla., and formerly of Tiffin, Ohio, passed away peacefully in his home, surrounded by his loving family, including his wife of nearly 65 years, Eugenie S. Friedman, and their five children, on Monday, March 18, 2013.

Bob celebrated his 90th birthday with his family on Feb. 6 of this year, and would have celebrated his 65th wedding anniversary on May 1.

Bob was nationally known as a composer of “big band” jazz music, achieved the pinnacle of success in business and industry as the President and chief executive officer of The National Machinery Company in Tiffin, Ohio, and spread the fruits of his success through his and his wife’s (Genie’s) philanthropic spirit as embodied in The Robert G. Friedman Foundation. His greatest success, however, and the one that pleased him most, was achieved through the inspiration he provided as a caring and sharing husband, father of five, grandfather of 15, great-grandfather of six (with two more on the way,) and father-in-law to four admiring sons-in-law.

Bob Friedman was born on Feb. 6, 1923, to Genevieve (Jane) Mahank and John H. Friedman in Tiffin, Ohio. He was preceded in death by his sisters, Betty Jane and Rosalie Friedman, and Janie Congdon Stall.

Bob was the leader of his own 10-piece jazz band, “The Melodiers,” while at Tiffin Columbian High School. Following his graduation, Bob attended Case Western Reserve University. He was inducted into Tau Beta Pi, The Engineering Honor Society and the engineering equivalent of Phi Beta Kappa. Following his graduation from Case with a degree in mechanical engineering and attendance at Harvard Business School, Bob served as a naval officer aboard the Battleship Texas during World War II.

After the war Bob rose through the ranks of The National Machinery Company (National) in Tiffin, Ohio and became the president and chief executive officer for almost three decades. During his tenure, National became not only the largest employer in Tiffin, but also the largest global manufacturer of hot and cold forging and forming machinery, capturing 52 percent of the world market.

Many of the company’s customers were leading firms in the automotive, aviation and beverage industries. In 1958, Bob led the acquisition of J.G.Kayser Company in Nuremberg, Germany, establishing manufacturing and distribution for National in Europe. Among his other successes was the negotiation of contracts with the Soviet Union during the height of the Cold War, Fiat Motor Company in Italy and Pratt & Whitney. Bob also invented and received a patent for the first machine to stamp a seamless aluminum can. Under his leadership, National achieved widespread industry recognition and success as an early pioneer of profit-sharing, employee stock ownership and productivity bonus programs.

Following his work at National, the family relocated to Fort Lauderdale, Fla. During the past 43 years he maintained a deep and abiding love for the men who had worked with him.

He did not, however, leave the business world completely. Bob became the founding investor and served for more than 20 years as chairman of the Board of Direct Supply, Inc., the nation’s largest supplier to the senior living industry. Stock portfolio analysis and management also became his passion.

It was also during this time period that Bob pursued his “second career” with great gusto, composing music and lyrics for more 100 songs which were performed or arranged by jazz greats, including Joe Williams, Ray Brown, Louie Belson, Lou Rawls, Benny Carter, Ernestine Anderson, Marian McPartland, Carmen McRae, Billy May, Matty Matlock, Flip Phillips, Johnny Mercer and Quincy Jones, with many of whom he also developed lasting friendships. Joe Williams performed Bob’s songs on “The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson,” and Quincy Jones included one of Bob’s songs, “A Tribute to Benny Carter,” in his “Best of Quincy Jones” album. His music has been performed by the Milwaukee and Jacksonville symphonies and also by the award-winning University of Miami Jazz Band. He was inducted into the “Big Band Hall of Fame” in Palm Beach, Fla., in 1992.

However, despite all these successes, Bob was most proud of his first song for his wife, “Serenade to Genie,” and the five songs he wrote for each of his children, “Betty,” “Jenny,” “Mary,” “Jane” and “Bobby.” He enjoyed composing music for many years on his sport-fishing boat, “Sunny Bunch,” and loved entertaining friends and family while aboard; and in his “spare” time, Bob loved going to movies, good food and restaurants, playing scrabble, and doing the New York Times Sunday crossword.

Bob and Genie believed themselves to have been blessed, and also firmly believed that, with these successes came both the privilege and the obligation to share. Through the philanthropy of The Robert G. Friedman Foundation, Bob and Genie shared their blessings with many, including the Institute for Civic Involvement at Pine Crest School, Holy Cross Hospital, Smith College, Northwestern University and Curious Kids Museum in St. Joseph, Mich.

Bob was first and foremost a devoted husband; father and friend, whose loyalty and love were unsurpassed. Says his son, Robert Taft Friedman, “My Dad’s many accomplishments are an inspiration to us all and his most enduring gift is the love he gave so freely and deeply to our family.”

Bob Friedman is survived by his wife, Eugenie Steuer Friedman; his children, Robert Taft Friedman of Chicago, Elizabeth (Daniel) O’Connor of Fort Lauderdale, Fla., Jennifer (Robert) Hillis of Milwaukee, Mary (Douglas) Baske of Fort Lauderdale, Fla., and Jane (Robert) Anspach of Perrysburg, Ohio; 15 grandchildren, Eugenie (Kahlil) O’Connor, Elizabeth (Chris) Elsbury, Danny (Solidea) O’Connor, Catherine (Sean) Hough, Genevieve (Brian) Hillis, Bobby Hillis, Alison (Vance) Wiese, Adam (Abby) Baske, Emily (Fletcher) Reeves, Michael Anspach, Bobby Anspach, John Anspach, James Friedman, Will Friedman and Mary Friedman; and seven greatgrandchildren, Jackson and Evelyn Reeves, Ava Wiese, Jack and Patrick Elsbury, Connor Hough and Elisa O’Connor.

Bob Friedman’s legacy is best summarized by his own words, as embodied in his song, “God Bless You”:

God Bless You, with peace of mind.
And help you see the thrill of being kind.
God give you your faith again,
And help you see the good in other men.

And so will those who knew and loved him, will remember him.

The family wishes to extend its love and eternal thanks to Dr. Joel Gellman for his extraordinary care of Bob. And to Marta Bosch, whose many years of friendship and devotion deserve the most heartfelt thanks. Finally, to all of Bob’s wonderful caregivers, Rick Shaw, Elva Hodzic, Karen Wirkus, Antonia Antunez, Nuno Hodzic and Mark Alexander, the family extends its undying gratitude.

Visitation will be at Fred Hunter Funeral Home, 718 South Federal Highway, on Sunday, March 24 from 4-6 p.m., with funeral mass to be held at St. Anthony’s Church on Monday, March 25 at 10 a.m. In lieu of flowers, donations can be sent to the American Cancer Society or the Gold Coast Jazz Society.