Arthur George Fidel’s impact on the Pittsburgh Jewish community will be felt for a long time.
It was his vision and leadership that helped shaped the current model of the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh, one in which partnerships with other agencies have enhanced community relations, education and care of the elderly.
Fidel, of Squirrel Hill, died Dec. 5. He was 88.
“Art was part of the leadership scene [at the Federation] when, as I see it, the last pieces of the modern Federation were put into place,” said Howard Rieger, former president and chief executive officer of United Jewish Communities, and president of the then-United Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh from 1981 to 2004.
Fidel joined a small committee in the late 1960s that worked to secure the merger of the Federation and the Jewish Community Relations Council, in order to help “bridge the gap” between the Black and the Jewish communities, according to Rieger.
“This was a time of major urban riots,” Rieger said. “It was 1968, exactly the time that the city was burning. Art understood the role of the Jewish community in the larger community context. When you bring the full force of the Federation behind those issues, you have a bigger impact. Art was deeply involved with that.”
Fidel also played a key role in ramping up Federation support of Pittsburgh’s three days schools in the early 1990s, Rieger recalled. Prior to that time, Federation support of the schools amounted to only modest scholarships to families. Fidel sought to change that paradigm, recognizing the importance of Federation support for Jewish education.
Finally, Fidel proved instrumental in increasing Federation support for services to the elderly.
“Really, that was the last piece of putting together the organization (the Federation) that exists today,” Rieger said, noting that Fidel became a leader in building the nursing and assisted living facilities that come under the umbrella of the Jewish Association on Aging.
Born in Brooklyn, N.Y., Fidel graduated from high school at the age of 15. He attended City College, studying engineering prior to enlisting in the Army Officer Candidate School at the outbreak of World War II. When the war ended, he attended New York University Law School on the G.I. Bill; he served on the Law Review, and graduated at the top of his class.
Fidel was practicing law in New York when he met Edythe Rogal, the daughter of a prominent Pittsburgh philanthropist and businessman, according to his son, Robert Fidel. They were married less than a year later. This coming March would have been their 60th anniversary.
Fidel joined his father-in-law, Max Rogal, as a principal at the Rogal Company, a leading full-service brokerage firm where he worked with his partner Alvin Rogal for the next 50 years. Under their leadership, the company grew from a family-owned business to Hilb Rogal and Hamilton, a public company that was traded on the New York Stock Exchange.
“As an insurance broker, he was a zealous advocate for his clients’ interests, while also maintaining the trust and loyalty of the insurance companies with whom he worked,” according to Robert, who worked alongside his father for 20 years. “His integrity was a valued quality in the industry. He was able to engineer compromises in complex cases, leaving both sides feeling that they were treated fairly and that he was looking out for their best interests.”
Fidel had a reputation of generosity and kindness to people from all walks of life.
“He did not forget his humble roots,” Robert said. “That was part of his generosity. He treated people from all walks of life the same. He was not someone who either kissed up or kicked down. He was someone who valued all people, and his humble roots helped him propel others. He was someone who never forgot who he was.”
A devoted husband, Fidel doted on his children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren, Robert said. He built elaborate model railroads, which he designed himself, and spent countless hours at his grandchildren’s sporting events.
He loved to play golf and cards, and discuss everything from politics to history to current events. It was not uncommon for him to receive a late night call from a friend seeking the answer to a movie or sports trivia question.
“He was Google before there was Google,” Robert said.
Fidel served as a lifetime trustee of Montefiore Hospital and of the Charles M. Morris Charitable Trust. He was a lifetime supporter of Children’s Hospital, and was one of the top 10 Pittsburgh Press Old Newsboys, raising money for that hospital for over 40 years.
Fidel served as president of the Westmoreland Country Club, and was one of the first Jewish members of the Duquesne Club. He was a regular at the Concordia Club, and took it upon himself to help find jobs for its employees when it closed in 2009.
“He was a devoted husband and father, par excellence,” Robert said. “He loved his children and grandchildren. You couldn’t have asked for too much more, except a little more time.”
In addition to Robert (Deborah), Fidel is survived by his wife, Edythe, two daughters, Stephanie Huberman (Mark) and Lieba Rudolph (William), 14 grandchildren and many great-grandchildren.
Interment was Dec. 6 at Beth Shalom Cemetery in Shaler.
Gifts may be made to the Noah S. Fidel Endowed Cardiology Fund at Children’s Hospital, 4401 Penn Ave., Pittsburgh 15224; or the Friendship Circle of Pittsburgh, 5872 Northumberland St., Pittsburgh 15217.
(Toby Tabachnick can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)