Sunday, June 12, 2016
Marjorie Switow Fisher, who combined the salty wit of an irreverent comedienne with the panache and style of a bygone era, passed away in her sleep at her home in Palm Beach Sunday, June 12, 2016. She was 92 years old.
She was surrounded by family members, whom she continued to host for meals and to entertain virtually to the end of her life. A voracious reader, she favored a mixture of gossip sheets and the financial press, which she studied diligently in her later years.
When her family pointed out to her that the gossip sheets usually had it wrong, her response was always the same: “It doesn’t matter. It makes for good dinner conversation. The worst thing you can do is be boring.” As for the financial press, she was determined to become a knowledgeable investor when her husband died in March of 2005.
Max M. Fisher, to whom Marjorie was married for 52 years, was one of the prominent industrialists and philanthropists of his day. He was known as a shrewd investor and left a fortune that was split between family bequests and a family foundation. Max and Marjorie divided their time between Detroit and Palm Beach; in both communities they were social luminaries who crossed religious and ethnic boundaries.
They were also great philanthropists. After Max’s death in 2005 and the creation of the permanent endowment to fund the Max M. & Marjorie S. Foundation, Marjorie assumed the role of Founding Chair.
For nearly six years she led quietly while her five children crafted the organization’s mission and initial grant partnerships. During her tenure as Chair, the Foundation committed more than $70 million in grants with nearly 50 partners on three continents and became recognized within the philanthropic sector as a leader in giving and governance among family foundations.
All four generations of the women in Marjorie’s family were awarded the 2013 ‘Changing the Face of Philanthropy Award’ by the Women’s Funding Network. Also in 2013 the family received the Outstanding Foundation of the Year Award for the Greater Detroit Region. In 2014 Marjorie was honored with the inaugural Founder’s Award by the Community Foundation for Palm Beach and Martin Counties.
Marjorie’s personal giving always started with questions that were fundamental and practical. What do they feel they need? Are these children being educated properly? Do they have nutritious food and adequate medical care? Do they live in safe neighborhoods? Where do they go after school? From this line of questioning came initiatives that have impacted tens of thousands of children. In Palm Beach County,
the Marjorie S. Fisher Tooth Fairy Mobile Unit continues to provide to underprivileged children dental care they never otherwise would have received.
In West Palm Beach and Riviera Beach, new Boys and Girls Clubs have been built—one known as The Marjorie and the other as The Max. Inspired by Marjorie’s leadership, in Detroit the Fisher family has committed funds to blight removal and has adopted one of the more beleaguered neighborhoods, providing both physical facilities and an array of social services. Continuing a commitment started by Max toward the end of his life, Marjorie has in recent years given leadership gifts both to the operating fund and the endowment of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra.
“All giving starts with your heart… and then you use your head,” has served as her philanthropic credo.
Marjorie Switow Fisher was born in Louisville, Kentucky November 5, 1923. Her family was in the theater business, which might explain her affinity for entertaining others, which she did with style and elegance in her homes in Detroit and Palm Beach.
Early in her life she showed a flair for fashion, designing clothes as a young woman during the 1940s. She majored in art and graduated at the top of her class from Marjorie Webster Junior College. From time to time she would announce this proudly and then flash her trademark sense of humor: “But there were only three students in the entire class.”
Just 29 years of age and with two young children from her first marriage, she moved from Louisville to Detroit in 1953 to marry a man 16 years her senior. A southern belle in the industrial heartland, she dressed better and entertained better than the established matrons in the community. She combined these gifts with wit and a down-to-earth common sense that won her friends from across the community.
Throughout her life, Marjorie moved comfortably within all social circles, equally at home with presidents and those who served them. This explains why she was so effective at connecting with and helping others. “You are here for a reason – to help other people’” she frequently said. “Everything in life is based on love and what you can do to help others. The rest is just cream—sometimes sour cream—but it’s all cream.”
She is survived by her children; Mary Fisher, Phillip Fisher and his spouse Lauren Fisher, Julie Fisher Cummings and her spouse Peter Cummings, Marjorie Fisher Furman and her spouse Roy Furman, Jane Sherman and her spouse Larry Sherman, as well as 37 grandchildren and great grandchildren.
Mrs. Fisher will be laid to rest in private ceremonies.
A public celebration of her life will be held at the Max M. and Marjorie S. Fisher Music Center at 4:30 p.m. Tuesday afternoon in Orchestra Hall.
In lieu of flowers, the family suggests gifts be made to the Brightmoor Alliance, Detroit Symphony Orchestra or the Palm Beach County Food Bank.