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The Eulogizer: Bruce Sundlun and Stanley Pearle

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JERUSALEM (JTA) — The Eulogizer highlights the life accomplishments of famous and not-so-famous Jews who have passed away recently. Learn about their achievements, honor their memories and celebrate Jewish lives well lived with The Eulogizer. Write to the Eulogizer at eulogizer@jta.org. Read previous columns here.

Bruce Sundlun, 91, former R.I. governor

Bruce G. Sundlun, the governor of Rhode Island from 1991 to 1995, died at his home in Jamestown, R.I., on July 21 at 91. Sundlun was a World War II hero, successful businessman, prominent member of the Rhode Island Jewish community and a colorful character who was married five times.

Sundlun “cut a larger-than-life figure that seemed inversely proportional to the size of his state” and was “combustible, confrontational and combative."

A Rhode Island newspaper blog said that one of his “printable” nicknames was Captain Blowhard. The state’s media and airwaves were filled with adoring, humorous, and affectionate commentary about Sundlun after his death.

“I can’t help but think what a vibrant, forceful presence he was in this building, and how much he got out of it,” U.S. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, who served as chief legal counsel and then policy director under Sundlun, said at a memorial service for Sundlun in Rhode Island’s capital building. “It’s a sentimental moment to see him back here where he did so much, back here for the last time.”

Sundlun, a Democrat, had won the governorship on his third try. He was defeated in a primary election as he tried for a third two-year term.

Sundlun took office as Rhode Island’s governor on New Year’s Day 1991, one day after the collapse of the Rhode Island Share and Deposit Indemnity Corp., which insured 45 banks and credit unions. The collapse set off a major financial crisis in the state. His decision to close state credit unions in response sparked protests throughout the state.

“As he was making his final decision as to whether to close the banks the next morning, there was all this noise and revelry outside,” which turned out to be First Night fireworks, former press secretary Barbara Cottam said. “He paused. I know he felt the weight on his shoulders of that decision.”

The Providence Journal said that Sundlun was even burned in effigy. Eventually, however, all depositors were repaid their full account balances, even if their institutions remained closed.

Sundlun was a prominent member of the Rhode Island Jewish community, serving on the board of Temple Beth-El, the state’s largest Reform synagogue, in Providence, and on the boards of The Miriam Hospital and Friends of Touro Synagogue.


The Providence native was one of the first Jews to attend the private Gordon School, where he said he experienced anti-Semitism. He graduated from Williams College in 1946. His studies were interrupted by World War II, where he flew B-17 bombers. He was shot down over Nazi-occupied Belgium and worked with Resistance forces before escaping to Switzerland. A full report on his remarkable war exploits and his many honors can be found here. He received his law degree from Harvard in 1949.

Sundlun became a millionaire from building a company that started out with department stores and grew into the ownership of television stations before he went into politics.

In an interview as he turned 90 in 2010, Sundlun said, "What lessons would I have for people? Play it straight. Who, what, where, when, how. Those are the facts of life."

He also said, "I don’t have any enemies that I know of. And it wouldn’t trouble me if I did."

The Eulogizer would like to thank Nancy Kirsch, executive editor of the Jewish Voice & Herald of Rhode Island, for significant help in preparing this article.

Stanley Pearle, 92, Pearle Vision founder

Stanley Pearle, founder of Pearle Vision, a chain of eye-care stores that now has 675 branches in North America, died July 21 at 92 at his home in Dallas, Texas.

Pearle founded the company in 1961 with a single store in Savannah, Ga., began franchising the concept in 1981 and eventually sold it to Luxottica of Italy, a designer and manufacturer of frames and sunglasses.


In a memoir he published in 2006, Pearle said that even though “Jewish mothers always wanted their sons to be either doctors or lawyers,” he went into optometry because he did not have the money, grades or interest for medical school. His interest in eyeglasses was sparked by a Depression-era job at a jewelry store in his hometown of Pittsburgh.

Pearle graduated from the Northern Illinois College of Optometry and moved to Dallas in 1940 to take his board examinations. He was managing a Dallas optical firm when he founded the first Pearle Optical store.

Pearle established OneSight, which provides eye care and glasses to the poor worldwide, and invests in eye research and students pursuing optometry. Pearle also supported the United Way and the Jewish Welfare Foundation.

 

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