Community stalwart Richard Kann dies at 84
"As someone so committed to supporting the Jewish community, and with a love for Israel and the Jewish people, his goal was always to do what needed to be done"
Richard Kann, a community leader who strongly influenced several other leaders of Jewish Pittsburgh today, has died.
Kann — who served as the board chairman of the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh and was known for his love of biking, golfing and keeping active — died March 4 at home, two days after accepting hospice care due to kidney failure. He was 84.
Kann’s first wife, Anna L. Kann, died of breast cancer. He married Bobbi Zimmer Kann after they were set up by matchmaker Tova Weinberg.
“On the second date, it was like something clicked,” Zimmer Kann remembered. “We had similar values, even though I was Orthodox and he was Reform. It all fell into place.”
“He was a great guy,” added Zimmer Kann, who was married to Richard for more than 14 years. “He taught me how to golf. We just had a really good time.”
Howard Rieger, a former president and CEO of the Federation, met Kann in his early days with the Pittsburgh organization in 1981. Their bond was a strong one; they shared a Shabbat dinner just three days before Rieger left for Israel in February.
“Over a period of 42 years, you get to know someone well,” Rieger said. “Richard Kann was someone who was always comfortable with who he was, where he came from and what he believed about a wide range of subjects. He didn’t harbor hidden agendas. You always knew where he was coming from.
“As someone so committed to supporting the Jewish community, and with a love for Israel and the Jewish people, his goal was always to do what needed to be done, rather than to seek honors for what he did — although he got well-deserved recognition whether he sought it or not,” Rieger added.
Kann had two children with his first wife: Andrea Kann Gassner, who lives in New York City; and Daniel E. Kann, who lives in Ventura, California. He also was a stepfather, a brother and a “papa.” He is survived by extensive family and friends.
Blair Jacobson, a semi-retired financial services professional who lives in Oakland, remembered biking with Kann in what they joked was the OMBC – Old Man’s Bicycle Club. Most weekend trips exceeded 25 or 50 miles; they even went on a biking tour of Amsterdam.
“Richard was a good mechanic — he was always good at fixing flats and keeping the bikes going,” Jacobson said.
“He pushed himself and kept himself going,” he added. “But he listened to his body tell him what he should and shouldn’t be doing.”
Kann served the Rotary Club of Pittsburgh for more than 50 years; multiple Rotarians mourned his passing publicly.
“It is with great sympathy that we share our condolences over Dick’s passing,” said Linda Fischer Bruce, in a note posted to the Ralph Schugar Chapel website shortly after his death. “He was a great Rotarian, friend, mentor and advocate not only to members of the Rotary Club of Pittsburgh, but to many that he engaged with…always leaving you feeling cared about and appreciated.”
Kann sat on the executive committees of the Pennsylvania Restaurant Association and the Jewish Healthcare Foundation. A longtime member of Rodef Shalom Congregation in Oakland, he also served on its executive committee.
“He was a wonderful member of our board for many years,” said Rabbi Aaron Bisno of Rodef Shalom. “He was a man of great capability — smart. Richard Kann had very strong opinions and often they were at odds with conventional thought. But Richard kept conversations going and did not cut off dialogue.”
“We’ll miss him,” Bisno added. “He was the best of us.”
Kann was a central, valued counselor to Jeff Finkelstein, president and CEO of the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh.
“A truly fearless fundraiser and stalwart supporter of Jewish Pittsburgh, Richard Kann chaired the Jewish Federation’s community campaign in 2000 and board in 2003,” Finkelstein said in a prepared statement. “When I became a first-time CEO in 2004, I was so lucky to have Richard as my first board chair to serve as my teacher in finance, business and so many facets of the job.”
“Our community has lost a dedicated, committed leader — someone who would not shy away from the difficult tasks of leadership,” Finkelstein added. “I have lost a friend and mentor.”
In addition to Kann’s work with the Federation, he was a lifelong member of the Westmoreland Country Club and the Concordia Club. He also served as an adviser to the Cincinnati campus of Hebrew Union College.
Foster Goldman, an attorney and former Pittsburgher who lives in Phoenix, golfed often with Kann. He remembers him smoking two or three cigars per round of golf. He used to joke that, when Kann died, family should spread his ashes on the golf course, as he had spread ashes there for years.
“It’s been many decades — we had been friendly for a long time,” Goldman said. “Richard was a good guy, a good husband, a good father — and he was clearly devoted to his community.
“He was very firm in his beliefs,” he added. “Sometimes we disagreed, sometimes we agreed. But it was all OK.”
Rieger said Kann was a keen observer “who was not swayed by the crowd, but rather, was driven by his own clear insight and understanding of issues.”
“We have lost a true friend, personally and communally,” Rieger said.
Kann was buried on March 6 in West View Cemetery of Rodef Shalom Congregation. PJC
Justin Vellucci is a freelance writer living in Pittsburgh.