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Originally published June 18, 2009 at 12:00 AM | Page modified June 18, 2009 at 7:13 PM

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Businessman, arts patron Max Gurvich dies

Max Gurvich, a Seattle-area businessman and arts philanthropist, passed away on Monday. He was 94.

Seattle Times staff reporter

Born before the era of antibiotics, Max Gurvich almost lost his right leg after a sledding accident at age 7. Despite a limp, Mr. Gurvich became a skiing and sailing aficionado who stayed active almost to the end.

He died Monday at age 94 at his Laurelhurst home with his wife, Helen, by his side and, nearby, three bags of the Tootsie Rolls he always kept in his jacket to hand out. A businessman who made his fortune without a college degree, Mr. Gurvich was a patron of arts organizations such as the Seattle Art Museum and Cornish College of the Arts, where he was a board member for nearly three decades until 2001.

"He was just full of this happy, positive outgoing energy," said Andrea Lieberman, his youngest daughter. "He didn't drink, he didn't smoke. He had a clean liver, but I think it was preserved in sugar."

Mr. Gurvich also supported the Jewish Federation of Greater Seattle's efforts to rescue and resettle Jews from the former Soviet Union and Ethiopia.

"He was just a real mensch, a real human being," said Richard Fruchter, president of the Jewish Federation.

Max Allen Gurvich was born in 1915 in Vancouver, B.C., to Jews who had fled persecution in Eastern Europe, Lieberman said. He moved to Seattle with his family when he was 2 years old. His father, Jacob, owned a furniture store. As a Boy Scout, Mr. Gurvich became interested in skiing and sailing.

He graduated from Garfield High School. In the 1940s, Mr. Gurvich sold an industrial floor-cleaning product that he prepared and delivered himself. Over the decades, his business thrived, Lieberman said.

He and Helen married in 1943 and raised three girls. Lieberman said he loved Seattle so much that he would take the family sailing here instead of going away.

Mr. Gurvich served on the boards of Ballard Hospital and Cornish. In 1999, Mr. Gurvich and his wife established an endowment for contemporary art at the Seattle Art Museum.

Besides his wife, Mr. Gurvich is survived by three daughters and sons-in-laws: Lisa and Roger Anderson and their children Tia and Max; Tina and Chip Ragen and their son, Ian; and Andrea and Jamie Lieberman and their children Jace and Julia, all of Seattle. He is also survived by two of his sisters, Ann Lewis of Bellevue and Clarice Wolfstone of Seattle.

Services will be held at 11 a.m. today, at Temple Beth Am, 2632 N.E. 80th Street in Seattle. A private burial will follow. In lieu of flowers, contributions can be made to the Jewish Federation or any arts organization.

Sanjay Bhatt: 206-464-3103 or

Copyright © 2009 The Seattle Times Company

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