Henry “Hank” Karp spent his life working hard to make a difference, and he did so quietly.
The Mt. Lebanon resident, who spent 23 years working for the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh as its director of marketing communications, died Sunday, Aug. 18, of brain cancer. He was 58.
“He was like Oz behind the curtain,” said his wife of 25 years, Simone Karp. “He would go to a Federation event, and stand in the back of the room against the wall. He had written all the speeches, he had written all the press releases, and then he would let other people shine. He relished that. That is a special person.”
Karp grew up in Monroeville, and graduated from Gateway High School in 1972. He earned his bachelor’s degree from Rider University in Lawrenceville, N.J., in 1976, deciding on a career in journalism after being moved by the investigative reporting of Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein during the Watergate scandal.
“He took their work to say ‘this is what we all should be doing, exposing wrongdoing and giving a voice to people who don’t have a voice,’” said Simone.
Following college, he went to work at the Beaver County Times as a reporter and later as its features editor. He ultimately helped to launch the Allegheny Times.
But writing about changes in the world was not enough for Karp; he wanted to help make those changes happen.
That’s when he shifted careers to work at the Federation.
“As a reporter, things don’t happen to you, they happen to other people and you write about them,” said Karp’s daughter Emily. “He wanted to make things happen for other people, and then write about it. And he wanted things to happen, but he didn’t want people to know he had anything to do with it.”
His work at the Federation allowed him to do just that, spearheading marketing efforts that promoted several important initiatives, including the Exodus Campaign, which raised almost $15 million to rescue Soviet Jews, and the Renaissance Campaign, which raised more than $50 million to build and renovate Jewish agency facilities, strengthening the infrastructure of the local Jewish community, Jeff Finkelstein, president and CEO of the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh said in a prepared statement.
During his time with the Federation, Karp earned a master’s degree in journalism, with a concentration in public relations and marketing communications from Point Park University. He later became an adjunct professor at the school.
Karp’s work at Federation was extensive, and included representing the Pittsburgh Federation on the national level, collaborating on models for marketing campaigns, spearheading the Federation’s Volunteer of the Year Program and managing specific divisions of the Annual Campaign.
In advancing the visibility of Federation, Karp earned the respect of his colleagues in the media.
“Hank’s career and mine paralleled each other in some interesting ways,” said Lee Chottiner, executive editor of The Jewish Chronicle. “We were both reporters at the Beaver County Times; we both ran that paper’s Allegheny County bureau, and we both made the life-changing decision to leave daily newspapers to work in the Jewish community. Needless to say, our commonalities brought us together as colleagues and as friends.
“I found Hank to be something of a mentor when I came to the Chronicle,” Chottiner continued. “He was a wealth of knowledge when it came to story ideas and sources to tap. He could be my biggest fan and my toughest critic, but his criticism was always infused with a desire to help me become a better editor; I always appreciated that.”
Karp was invested in helping others from the time he was a child — always befriending “the nerd,” according to his daughter Marissa — up until the end of his life.
“Even in his darkest moments, he was always worried about everyone else,” Simone said.
She recounted a visit by Rabbi Mendel Rosenblum to Karp’s hospital room after surgery, during which the rabbi helped him to don teffilin.
“When they were finished, Hank asked the rabbi to go down the hall, and put teffilin on a man from Israel who also had just had brain surgery,” Simone said. “He told the rabbi, ‘I think it will give him hope.’” Karp thought of his visits from Rosenblum as his “spiritual therapy,” Simone said, “and he embraced it. It was just amazing.”
His spirituality moved him to do all he could to ease the pain of others. After hearing that a woman down the hospital hall had been diagnosed with the same type of brain tumor he had, Karp walked into her room and removed a bracelet that he had been wearing since his own diagnosis two and a half years earlier — a gift from his daughters.
The bracelet had been inscribed with a quote from Winston Churchill: “Never, never, never give up.”
“He took it off his wrist and put it on hers,” Simone said. “He said, ‘I don’t need this anymore. I hope it works for you as it did for me. The doctors told me I only had six months to live, and here I am two and half years later. You have to have hope.’”
The bracelet was also meaningful to Karp because of his passion for history, Simone said, calling her late husband a “real history buff.”
“Once Marissa, who was in AP history in school, forgot her study guide for a test, and the school was locked,” Simone recalled. “She called her friend and got the questions. When she read them, I had high speed Internet [searching for the answers], and Hank had his brain. Not only was he correct every time, but he was more detailed than Google, and faster than I could type.”
Karp was dedicated to Simone, Emily and Marissa, always there for his family, and even going beyond the ordinary call of duty, traveling to regional cheerlead- ing competitions, “flat-iron in hand,” ac- cording to Marissa.
“The girls said he put into 22 years what most father’s can’t do if they live to 100,” said Simone.
In addition to Simone, Emily and Marissa, Karp is survived by his moth- er, Rita; two brothers, Stuart and Robert; and a sister, Laura Flint. In- terment was at Beth Shalom Cemetery. Donations may be made to the Henry and Simone Karp Foundation, with checks payable to the Jewish Federa- tion of Greater Pittsburgh, 234 McKee Place, Pittsburgh, PA 15213.
(Toby Tabachnick can be reached at email@example.com.)