Simply put, Mort Siegler was a philanthropist in every sense of the word.
In 2000, he and his wife, Carol, were recognized with the American Jewish Committee’s Human Relations Award. In 2009, they were honored again with AJC’s Legacy of Leadership Award.
But, his philanthropic spirit extended to those he knew personally.
When Melvy Lewis’ husband was sick, Mort Siegler called her and asked how he could best help her.
“You know when someone says that, they really mean it,” Lewis said.
Siegler died June 11. He was 95.
AJC West Coast Florida Regional Director Brian Lipton said looking out for others was part of Siegler’s spark. Lipton was 41 years old when Siegler gently told him that he had parked his car incorrectly.
“... He took me aside in a parking lot and informed me that I didn’t pull up far enough in a parking space, and he pointed out how my car was sticking out when other cars weren’t,” Lipton said in an email. “I think of Mort every time I park my car — in a way, he’s still taking care of me and making sure I’m safe.”
Siegler, and Carol were honorary vice presidents of AJC’s national board of governors, Lipton said in his email. Carol Siegler still holds the title.
Lipton said AJC was a perfect fit for them and is insurance that will safeguard their children’s and grandchildren’s Jewish identity.
Siegler worked to build bridges between various faiths in and out of the Sarasota community. The Sieglers were among the founders of the Center for Catholic-Jewish Council, a joint effort between Sarasota AJC, the Archdiocese of Venice and St. Leo University.
Lately, the couple funded the national Muslim-Jewish Affairs Council, a relatively new initiative within AJC.
“He saw that [philanthropy] through the eyes of my mom and very much supported it. You could see he really enjoyed doing that. It gave him a good feeling.”
— Kim Schaffer, daughter of Mort and Carol Siegler
Veronica Brady, Gulf Coast Community Foundation’s senior vice president of philanthropy, said once you started talking to Siegler, you wanted to talk to him forever. She said he expected excellence from those around him because he provided excellence.
“Once you knew him, he was a friend for life, so I’m grateful to have known him in my life,” Brady said.
Carol and Mort Siegler met at Cornell University by chance. Mort Siegler was scheduled to go on a double date, but his date decided to get back with her boyfriend. Carol’s roommate was joining Mort’s friend and invited Carol when she learned Mort wouldn’t have a date.
Throughout their marriage, the Sieglers were a team and brought out the best in each other, their daughter Kim Schaffer said.
Carol Siegler was always philanthropic, while Mort Siegler was more business oriented. However, Mort Siegler started following his wife’s lead.
“He saw that [philanthropy] through the eyes of my mom and very much supported it,” Schaffer said. “You could see he really enjoyed doing that. It gave him a good feeling.”
From AJC and the formerly named Florida West Coast Symphony to starting the Siegler Center for Integrative Medicine in Livingston, N.J., Siegler’s philanthropic passions were something he taught to his daughters.
“When you’ve made your mark, it’s time to give back,” Melvy Lewis said of lessons Siegler taught his daughters.
Schaffer said philanthropy has been a mainstay in the Siegler family. But along with his passion for philanthropy, the building executive left a legacy of thinking out of the box.
As a joke amongst themselves, Schaffer and her sisters kept a tally of all the mistakes their father made because he was such a perfectionist, Schaffer said. They counted 17.
One time it was because they missed their flight when returning from a visit to their grandparents. Another time, Siegler was roasting a lamb in their boat house and the lamb fell into the lake. Siegler fished it out, put it back on the skewers and no one knew the difference.
No matter what, Siegler, who spent his career directing construction projects that ranged from hospitals to universities, always fixed his mistakes.
“He was very in the moment and really paid attention to the details. When it came to try and solve a problem, he didn’t leave a stone unturned,” Schaffer said. “And he looked at things in a unique way where people would get stuck.”
In lieu of flowers, Siegler’s family asks that memorial donations be made to the Children’s Guardian Fund at childrensguardianfund.org/get-involved/donate/.
Siegler is survived by his wife of 70 years, Carol; three daughters, Jan Kliger, Kim Schaffer and her husband, Don Sandler, and Meg Callahan and her husband, Tim; five grandchildren; and one great-granddaughter.
This story has been updated to state the correct date of Siegler's death.