Milton Fine, a hotel magnate whose passion for the arts and Judaism enhanced the lives of Pittsburgh residents, died on March 27. Fine was 92.
Born to Samuel and Ida (Krimsky) Fine on May 18, 1926, at Passavant Hospital — then located in the Hill District — Fine was the third of four children of a Russian mother and Polish father. Fine’s parents came to the United States in 1911 and were introduced to each other shortly thereafter.
As a child in East Pittsburgh, Fine attended Bessemer Avenue Elementary School. In a 1999 recording with the National Council of Jewish Women Pittsburgh Section, Fine recalled his home’s proximity to Bessemer Elementary and the familiar sound of its tardy bell.
“I heard that frequently because I was dashing off to school and always getting there a few minutes late,” he said.
East Pittsburgh, unlike the Hill District or Squirrel Hill, did not possess a sizable Jewish population, but Fine found Jewish friends. For High Holidays, Fine accompanied his parents to services at Congregation Oheb Zedeck, and around the time of his bar mitzvah, Fine attended Hebrew school for approximately nine months.
“I learned everything I needed to learn, but unfortunately, because of the short period I went, I haven’t been able to retain a great deal,” he said.
Fine attended East Pittsburgh High School for seventh and eighth grades and at 14 he moved with his family to a rented home in Squirrel Hill.
“It was a really good place to live at the time because there were lots of kids and we used to play ball in the street.”
Squirrel Hill provided a “good introduction to the city,” and Fine completed high school at Taylor Allderdice. As a member of the school’s accelerated program, he graduated in January 1944. He attended Penn State University for one semester before entering the U.S. Army. After 17 weeks at Fort Bragg, Fine was deployed overseas in December, 1944. He served in London for one week and then in France for one and a half years. He later noted that at just 19 years of age he was a sergeant responsible for 1,500 people.
Upon returning to the Steel City in 1946, Fine enrolled at the University of Pittsburgh, where he completed his undergraduate and Juris Doctor degrees in less than four years. Yet he discovered few opportunities for Jewish attorneys.
“A Jewish lawyer couldn’t really work for a major law firm or Mellon Bank or Bell Telephone Company or U.S. Steel, so the avenues that were open were very limited,” he said.
Fine was eventually employed by his cousin, Samuel Krimsly, but fired six months later.
“I always really had problems with authority and pretty much concluded it was better for me not to work for anybody and try and create a situation where I could be my own boss and have my own business,” he said.
Fine went out on his own, and later quipped that he had been “unemployed” ever since.
Throughout the 1950s, he practiced law and entered business and real estate ventures. In 1960, he and Edward Perlow co-founded Interstate Hotels Corporation with the purchase of a motel in Erie, Pennsylvania. IHC was the country’s largest hotel management company until the late 1990s, when they were acquired by Patriot American Hospitality REIT. Fine later formed FFC Capital Corporation and became a respected art collector. His interest in paintings was spurred by a visit to Parisian galleries in the 1970s. Fine later served as a trustee of the Carnegie Museum of Art in Pittsburgh, helped revitalize the Carnegie International — the nation’s oldest exhibition of global contemporary art — and chaired the museum’s board.
“Milt Fine was a generous and effective leader of Carnegie Museum of Art for many years, and an early and persuasive advocate for The Andy Warhol Museum,” said Richard Armstrong, director of the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation, in a statement.
Fine’s contributions to global Jewish life were noted by those who knew him.
“Milt was a stalwart supporter of the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh because he cared deeply about the strength and vitality of our Jewish community and about the future of the state of Israel,” said Jeffrey Finkelstein, president and CEO of the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh.
Although Fine supported the Jewish State, there was an irony, recalled his son, David Fine.
“He was a strong supporter but didn’t like spending time in Israel,” said David Fine. “My father would remark that the weather was too hot, the food was too spicy and the people were too prickly.”
His son also recalled that after attending his grandson’s bar mitzvah in Israel, Milton Fine flew to France. When asked why he did that, he replied, “Because I was hungry.”
“Milt had such a keen intellect and just saw the world from a perspective that was very unique,” said his stepdaughter Pamela Wein Levy. “He was bold and courageous. He was a nonconformist and he was driven and ever hungry for knowledge.”
“Milt believed in the Jewish faith’s ethical principles and appreciated the sense of community that Judaism fosters,” said his wife Sheila Reicher Fine, in an email. “He believed the values of Judaism made him a more responsible community leader. They shaped his support for vulnerable neighbors and instilled in him a reverence for education, hard work and the self-determination that guided his life.”
“He was accomplished, cultured and ever-curious,” echoed Rabbi Aaron Bisno, Rodef Shalom Congregation’s senior rabbi.
Sitting with Fine was “sort of like being in the old yeshivas,” remarked Karen Wolk Feinstein, president and CEO of the Jewish Healthcare Foundation. “He really had a great sense of humor and the most probing mind. Milt was always looking at the why of things, why something isn’t working, and the how of things, how do you make a bigger impact.”
“My visits with him always challenged me as he was so well-read and up-to-date on current events,” he said. “I will deeply miss those interactions but will forever hold them in my memories.”
Fine was married three times. In 1950, he married Sara Fogel of Pittsburgh. The couple had three children: Carolyn Fine Friedman (Jerry) of Newton, Mass., Sibyl Fine King of Poole Dorset, England, and David J. Fine (Rachel) of Weston, Mass. In 1972, he married Becky Welsh, formerly of Pittsburgh. In 1989, he married Sheila Reicher and gained three stepchildren: Pam Wein Levy (Michael) of Pittsburgh, Howard Reicher (Donna) of Pittsburgh and Jan Reicher (Alain Bismuth) of San Francisco, Calif.
In 2007, Fine and Reicher established the Fine Foundation, which supports projects in arts and culture, Jewish life, science and medicine, primarily in the Pittsburgh region. To date, the Fine Foundation has provided more than $35 million in grants to more than 350 nonprofits.
Twenty years before his passing, Fine was asked if there was any way he would like to be remembered.
“Not really,” he said. “Whatever I do, whatever I’ve done, speaks for itself.”
Fine is survived by his wife, three children, three stepchildren, nine grandchildren and six stepgrandchildren. PJC
Adam Reinherz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org