Gerald Paul, co-founder of Paul Harris stores and a major philanthropist in the arts, education, and Jewish causes, died October 29 at his home in Indianapolis. He was 95 years old. He is survived by his wife of 65 years, Dorit, his daughters Eloise (Bill Lee) and Alison (Marc Gold), and his grandchildren Benjamin (Sallamaari Vainio) and Melanie Gold.
Gerald was born in Witten, Germany, on September 28, 1924. After the Nazi takeover, and enactment of the Nuremberg laws in 1935, life was difficult as one of only two Jews in his Gymnasium. He was permitted to stay only because his father had been awarded the Iron Cross for his role in the First World War. In 1938, his family fled Germany and came to Indianapolis, where they had cousins, the Efroymsons, who would sponsor them.
Speaking no English upon his arrival, Gerald nonetheless advanced rapidly through school. He graduated from Shortridge High School at age 15. Thereafter he worked at Real Silk Company where he rose from “whizzer boy” to general merchandise manager. He also founded the employee store.
On a business trip to New York, he was introduced to Dorit Selig, whose family, like his, had fled from the Nazi regime. Gerald and Dorit married in 1954.
With Earl Harris, Mr. Paul founded Paul Harris Stores in 1952, selling packaged apparel in supermarkets. They opened their first store in 1954. Mr. Paul took sole leadership of the company in 1980. The stores provided fashionable clothes for the young women who were joining the workforce in large numbers. For his business leadership, Mr. Paul was recognized in 1994 as Indianapolis’s CEO of the Year by Indiana Business Magazine.
He was an active member of the Young Presidents Organization (YPO) and the Chief Executive’s Forum. He served as chair for several seminars and led trips to Russia and Japan.
An enthusiastic supporter of Indianapolis’s cultural vitality, Mr. Paul served on the boards of the Eiteljorg Museum, the Children’s Museum of Indianapolis, Dance Kaleidoscope, and the Indianapolis Museum of Art. He established galleries at the IMA, the Eiteljorg, the Children’s Museum and the Herron School of Art at IU.
He was also a proponent of Jewish life as a member of the board of the Jewish Federation of Greater Indianapolis, and the Borns Jewish Studies Program at Indiana University. He and Dorit established an endowment at IU for the study of Germans and Jews. With a cutting from the tree that grew outside the home of Anne Frank, Gerald and Dorit donated the Peace Park in her honor at the Children’s Museum.
After retiring from Paul Harris in 1995, Mr. Paul and his wife volunteered in the US effort to guide Russia’s transition to a free market economy, travelling to Nizhny Novgorod. He also taught retailing at Purdue University for many years and, in 2007, published his memoir, “My Business Life Cycle.”
For his many business and philanthropic endeavors, Mr. Paul received a multitude of recognitions and awards. These include induction in the Junior Achievement Central Indiana Business Hall of Fame (2009), The Federal Republic of Germany’s Friendship Award (2010), the Volunteer/Patron Arti Award from the Arts Council of Indianapolis (2011), being named as a Living Legend by the Indiana Historical Society (2012), induction in the Fashion Hall of Fame (2015), the Phoenix Theater Honors Award (2017), and the Distinguished Service Award from the Indianapolis Museum of Art (2018).
Mr. Paul’s life was one of resilience. Time and again, he confronted extraordinary obstacles, and time and again overcame them and emerged stronger. Perhaps the greatest obstacle of all was the first: being a Jewish child in Hitler’s Germany. Then came the challenge of attending an American high school without speaking English, while working, and graduating at age 15. Years later, on June 18, 1974, when the company he co-founded was thriving, a tornado destroyed the distribution center and much of the inventory and rendered the headquarters unusable. Untangling the insurance coverage took two years, but Paul Harris’s best years were still ahead. In 1990, the company owned 377 stores in 37 states with a sales volume of $240 million. The final crisis hit the following year. Mr. Paul had delegated the merchandising, which he had previously done himself, as the demands on him as CEO had grown along with the company. It didn’t work, and sales fell off markedly. Ultimately, the company had to declare bankruptcy under Chapter 11. Mr. Paul, at 66, could have simply walked away. Instead, he saw the bankruptcy as the final obstacle of his business career, and set to work determined, once again, to overcome and emerge stronger than before. He got the company out of bankruptcy in just 20 months. Raymond H. Diggle, a stock analyst, called Paul’s emergence from Chapter 11 one of his greatest accomplishments. Diggle said, “He stayed around to make sure the company got back on the right track.” Only when the company was once again on solid footing did Paul retire in 1995.
His remaining years were filled with his many philanthropic projects, teaching, travel, and time with family and friends. He particularly enjoyed his boat on the Ohio River and Lake Monroe. 81 years after arriving as a refugee, Mr. Paul leaves behind a city enriched by his work ethic and philanthropy. In addition to his children and grandchildren, he leaves behind his legacy of leadership and generosity, and his example of determination, strength, and resiliency.
For making his last days as comfortable as possible, the family thanks Sharron Bedford as well as the dedicated and supportive care givers from Senior 1 Care.
Services will be held Thursday, October 31 at 2pm at the Indianapolis Hebrew Congregation, 6501 North Meridian Street, Indianapolis, IN 46260.
Contributions may be made to Indianapolis Hebrew Congregation, Indianapolis Symphony, or the charity of your choice.
The family will be receiving visitors from 7-9pm Thursday and 3-5pm Saturday at the Paul residence. Shiva will be Monday at the home of Eloise and Bill from 5-7pm.
Friends may leave a message of tribute or condolence by visiting www.arnmortuary.com
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