Posted September 17, 2007

Trustee and former board chair Howard Gittis dies at 73

Howard Gittis, a long-time member and former chair of Temple's Board of Trustees and one of the university's most generous benefactors, died in his sleep on Monday, Sept. 17. He was 73.

Born and raised in Philadelphia, Gittis was vice chairman and chief administrative officer of New York-based MacAndrews & Forbes Holdings Inc., a diversified holding company with interests in consumer products, financial services, entertainment, biotechnology and gaming.

A trustee for 27 years, Gittis served as board chair from 2000 to 2006, a period during which he guided the university through a period of unprecedented growth. He also chaired the board of the Temple University Health System from 1995 to 2000.

"This is a profound loss for the entire Temple family," said President Ann Weaver Hart. "Howard was one of the most outstanding leaders Temple University has known. There are few people who have had a greater impact on our students' quality of education and quality of life.

Howard Gittis

Photo by Kelly & Massa

"His commitment to access and the opportunities that Temple provides to all students will live on," Hart added.

Although not a Temple alumnus (he earned economics and law degrees from the University of Pennsylvania after graduating from Philadelphia's Central High School), Gittis often attributed his intense commitment to Temple to his family's modest roots and Temple’s traditional mission of serving outstanding, motivated students of all backgrounds and means.

"I am a child of immigrants, the first in my family to go to college," he told the Temple Times in 2004. "A good education enabled me to make a fine living… and I believe that you have to give back."

And give back he did, advancing Temple through his service as board chair and his philanthropy.

During Gittis' years as chair of Temple's Board of Trustees, the University’s growth in enrollment, fundraising, faculty hiring and campus building captured nationwide attention. That growth sparked more than $200 million in private investment in off-campus student housing, retail, restaurants and entertainment in the neighborhoods surrounding Main Campus. The number of students living on or near Main Campus has more than doubled since 2002, reaching nearly 10,000.

"When I became board chair, I was a firm believer that Temple needed to become a more residential school," Gittis said in 2006. "You can walk around campus now and see the lights and feel the vibrancy. Few people believed that we could accomplish that."

Among Gittis’ recent donations to Temple was a $5 million pledge, which included funds to create the Ronald O. Perelman Professorship in Entrepreneurial Finance in the Fox School of Business in 2004 and three large matching grants — called Gittis Challenges — to Temple’s Annual Fund in 2004-05 and 2005-06, as well as significant unrestricted contributions over the years to support Temple’s general operations.

"Howard was a towering figure, a mentor and great friend, not just to me and his fellow board members, but to everyone in the extended Temple family," said Daniel H. Polett, who replaced Gittis as chairman of Temple's Board of Trustees in 2006. "He was especially dedicated to Temple's students. It is only fitting that our glorious new student center, the Howard Gittis Student Center, bears his name."

Funeral services will be held at 11 a.m. Tuesday, Sept.18, at Central Synagogue, Sanctuary Building, 652 Lexington Ave., New York. Burial will be held in Trevose, Pennsylvania.