Those who follow me on the Patch know that I mostly write about Radnor School District and Township issues. But I hope you won’t mind if I digress a bit today because yesterday, I lost my Father.
Tom Brokaw has described my father’s generation, those that who grew up during the Great Depression and then went on to fight in World War II, as “The Greatest Generation”. He argued that these men and women did things not for fame, fortune or recognition, but because it was the “right thing to do”.
And so it was with my father. He was truly a remarkable man; a man of integrity, character, wisdom, honesty and humanity, and maybe surprisingly to some, a lifetime Democrat- early on Nixon’s enemies list- who later switched to being a Republican because of his concern over the financial direction of the country. My family and I will deeply miss him.
My wife, Peg, was kind enough to prepare the following obituary which I hope you enjoy.
Frederick Heldring, former chairman and chief executive of the Philadelphia National Bank and vice chairman of its parent, the Corestates Financial Corporation of Philadelphia National Bank, and a leader in the Dutch Underground who helped Jews escape the tyranny of Nazi Germany, died on October 12, 2013 at his home in Wayne, PA. The cause was advanced liver cancer.
Mr. Heldring was born in Amsterdam, Holland on March 25, 1924 to Ernst and Marie Bungener Heldring and was the youngest of six children. His father was president of Nederlandsche Handelmaatshappij, the largest bank in Holland at the time. His mother was French and died when Mr. Heldring was only six months old when she was struck by an Italian Army truck that swerved to avoid hitting a child. Her last words were ‘Freekje,’ which is what she called her youngest child.
Heldring was raised by nurses, French governesses and his father’s sister,
Olga, and learned to speak French at an early age. He later became fluent in Spanish, Portuguese,
and German. He became fluent in English
by listening to the BBC. During his
interview with the Shoah Visual History Foundation in 1998 (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RiwOYDKvu3I), Mr. Heldring said his childhood was a happy one
and that he was considered his father’s “favorite” perhaps to compensate for
the early loss of his mother. His older
brother, Jan, was killed during World War II when his ship was torpedoed by a
German submarine, and his sister, Marguerite, died tragically at the age of 18.
Heldring was 15 years old when Hitler began his advance across Europe. “I always bicycled back and forth to school,”
he said. “One day, I looked at the
bricks over which I bicycled, and said to myself, ‘I cannot imagine that
someday these bricks will not be ours, but belong to the Germans.’ Not long after, on May 10, 1940, the Germans
invaded, and on May 15, the bricks did, indeed, belong to the Germans.”
after Germany had occupied Holland for three years, the Germans conscripted
every boy born in 1923 and 1924 to be sent to Germany to work for the war
effort. Mr. Heldring was only 19 at the
time. His father sent him into hiding in
northern Holland, where he labored on a farm for months. Eventually he returned to Amsterdam and began
working for a Dutch underground organization called “Rolls Royce (RR)” that was
dedicated to helping Jews hide with safe families. In 1944, he became chief of a spy operation that
smuggled reports of German troop movements to the Allies. His office was around the corner from where
Anne Frank’s family was hiding but he did not know that at the time. During the German Occupation, Holland suffered
through the “Hunger Winter” and many, including Mr. Heldring, survived by
eating tulip bulbs and potato skins.
the war ended, Mr. Heldring served in the Dutch marines for three years and
studied economics in Amsterdam. In 1950,
he emigrated to the United States after his father introduced him to Clarence
Hunter, a vice president with the Bank of New York, who agreed to become his sponsor.
He graduated from the University of
Pennsylvania’s Wharton School in 1951. While
studying at Penn, he worked part-time for Philadelphia National Bank (PNB)
sorting checks. After graduation, he
worked in the bank’s overseas operations for many years, and eventually became
chairman of its subsidiary specializing in overseas trade financing. In 1974, he was appointed President of PNB and
served as its Chairman from 1986 until his retirement in 1989.
addition to his professional accomplishments, Mr. Heldring was a devoted
husband and father of seven children. In
1953, Mr. Heldring met his future wife, Colette Barr, in Mexico while staying at
the Taninul Hotel. On assignment for his
position at PNB, he was there to hone his Spanish skills. Mr. Heldring admired Colette swimming in the
hotel pool, and promptly asked her to dinner.
She was traveling with her mother and both accepted the invitation. During dinner, he somehow convinced the
conservative Mrs. Barr to allow her daughter to remain in Mexico alone and
travel with the tall, dashing Dutch banker.
A whirlwind three week courtship followed and they were married within six
months. They later named their Wayne
home ‘Taninul’, but it was always affectionately referred to by the couple’s
grandchildren as the ‘Rock House’ because of its vast stone exterior.
the bank, Mr. Heldring was known as an international leader who traveled extensively
promoting the importance of world markets. He was the first banker to visit the Soviet
Union in 1959. Under his guidance, PNB’s
international department became one of the most significant in the United
States. He met with many world leaders, including
French President Valery Giscard D’Estaing, several Ambassadors, American
Presidents Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, Richard Nixon, and Ronald Reagan, and
former Vice-President Walter F. Mondale, to name a few. Mr. Heldring’s affiliations included globally
oriented organizations such as the Foreign Relations Council, the Philadelphia Regional
Export Expansion Council, and Business Leaders for Sensible Priorities and the
Governors Council on International Commerce.
Mr. Heldring traveled abroad, he always enjoyed returning to his home base of Philadelphia,
his family and PNB. During his tenure as
PNB’s chairman, he was known for his easy accessibility and his employees delighted
in their chairman sitting down with them on occasion in the company
cafeteria. He also implemented Upward
Communication meetings in 1977 which afforded employees an opportunity to sit
down once a week with members of senior management and discuss their concerns
and questions. “I had the feeling that
we - meaning senior managers - did a good job of consulting with the people who
work directly for us before we make a decision that affects them. But we didn’t do that with clerks and
tellers. I felt that these people too
had good ideas and should be consulted before doing things that affected
them. I just decided that I wanted to
have the ability for one hour a week to listen to employees in any part of the bank
and see the bank through their eyes,” said Mr. Heldring at the time.
his accessibility, Mr. Heldring was a formidable employer who also enjoyed a
certain formality at the bank and was rarely seen without wearing a suit and
tie. He came to expect nothing less from
his employees. As one former PNB banker recalls:
“I was brand new to the PNB Training Program in 1985. During lunch, I went to the PNB cafeteria to
grab a sandwich to bring back to my desk. Not knowing any better, I left my suit jacket
behind. As I was returning to my desk,
the elevator stopped on the 2nd floor, the door opened, and in walked Mr.
Heldring. I said hello….he said hello. After several seconds of silence, and as my
floor approached, he turned to me and simply stated:”We wear our suit jackets
between floors.” I can distinctly
remember the feeling I had in the pit of my stomach. I don’t think I ever took my jacket off
his career, Mr. Heldring never forgot the suffering he had seen in war-torn
Holland and actively worked to reduce poverty in the inner cities. A pioneer in the concept of investing in the
inner city of Philadelphia, he co-founded the Greater Philadelphia Partnership
and at one time chaired its international-city task force. Upon his retirement from PNB in 1989, he
became Founder and First Chairman of the Philadelphia Development Partnership
(PDP), an alliance of banks, businesses, community-based organizations and
government which worked to support affordable housing and economic development
efforts of local CDCs. In the 1990’s,
this organization evolved into neighborhood economic development primarily
In the early
1970’s, Mr. Heldring was a leader in promoting the concept of banks lending
directly to underserved neighborhoods. He co-founded, along with Mr. James Bodine,
President of First Pennsylvania Bank, the Philadelphia Mortgage Plan and
Philadelphia Rehabilitation Plan, the latter of which made contractor loans to
rehabilitate low income housing. According
to Mr. Robert Palmer, who was PNB’s President in the late 80’s and early 90’s,
Mr. Heldring was one of the first to fight against the concept of “red-lining”
low income neighborhoods considered too risky by most banks. “Fred fought the idea of red-lining by the
banks, arguing that even though houses were in low income neighborhoods, the
banks should be encouraged to take risks and lend to those buyers who had jobs and
exhibited character.” Palmer says that this
concept, which was a novel one at the time, became the progenitor of the Community
Reinvestment Act passed by Congress in l977.
“The Federal Reserve came to PNB to study what Fred had done at the
bank” said Palmer, and as a result, other lending institutions were obligated
to meet the credit needs of their local communities.
Mr. Heldring’s other roles included acting as chairman of
the Philadelphia Council for International Visitors, chairman of the World
Affairs Council, and vice chairman of International House. He was director and former chairman of
Executive Service Corps., director of Greater Philadelphia Federation of
Settlements, the American Academy of Political and Social Science at the
University of Pennsylvania, Quaker Chemical and Quaker Europe, the Elwyn
Institute, Thorncroft Therapeutic Center (recipient of the “Statesman Award”)
Nagy Foundation, and Nederlandse Resassurantie Groepnv. He also served as chairman of Main Line
School Night, was a former Trustee of Temple University, and a Woodrow Wilson
Scholar at Princeton University.
Heldring served as a board member of Paper Manufacturing Co, Businessmen for
Peace in Vietnam and Nuclear Arms Control and was a member of the Executive Committee
of the U.S. Council of the International Chamber of Commerce. He received an Honorary Doctorate from Eastern
College in 1995 and was named to their Advisory Board. He was also the recipient of the Robert Morris
Citizenship Award, the highest award presented by the Main Line District Boys
of America to a leader in the business community. During his lifetime, he received a Citation
from the Dutch government for his role in World War II, the Boys & Girls
Club “Touch a Life” Award, and a Mayoral Citation and City Council Citation in
2000 for his efforts to implement revitalization strategies in Philadelphia’s
Heldring was actively involved as national chairman of the Partners of the
Americas Foundation and was the chairman of its local chapter, the
Pennsylvania-Bahia Project. With his
leadership assistance, funds were raised for a school that was built in
Salvador, Bahia and named after him. In
1979, Mr. Heldring co-founded the Global Interdependence Center, a Philadelphia
based non- profit enterprise that seeks to promote free trade and the
globalization of capital markets, lobbying in Washington, D.C. and creating a
world-class forum for the debate of global policies. The “Frederick Heldring Award” is given
annually to honor those who have demonstrated a commitment to the development
of global communities.” At his death, Mr.
Heldring was Chairman Emeritus of that organization.
Heldring will perhaps best be remembered as a compassionate leader with a
common touch. A former employee, Corliss
Boggs, recalls how the PNB chairman would always make a point of visiting every
department on Christmas Eve to wish his employees a “merry holiday” starting at
the top of the building and working his way down to Trust Operations and the basement
vault where she worked. When the
Chairman learned one year that Mrs. Boggs’ department still had a lot of work
to process because of another department’s delay “he immediately got on the
phone and talked to the head of that department and told them to step on
it. We never saw such a fast turnaround.
And we were able to leave earlier than ever that year. What was particularly
gratifying was that the following year, he remembered the situation and came
down to check that we were getting our work without any delay. He will always be remembered for the concern
he showed for all his employees and for taking the time to let everyone know
how important they were to the bank.”
Heldring was a man of deep faith.
Although he was raised outside of organized religion, Mr. Heldring
actively sought a faith to practice as an adult. Mr. Heldring discovered the
Swedenborg faith in 1958 and was a loyal member of that church for many years
before ultimately converting to Catholicism in 1993. His Catholic faith deepened with time and Mr.
Heldring was often seen by neighbors walking to daily mass in Wayne. In 2004, Mr. Heldring was elected to the Board
of Directors of the Office for Community Development of the Archdiocese of
Philadelphia and served a three year term.
their lives, Mr. and Mrs. Heldring (“Opa” and “Grandee”) enjoyed traveling on
cherished family trips with their large extended family to such diverse places
as England, Portugal, Turkey, France, Jamaica, Bermuda, Holland, Mexico, North
and South Carolina, Florida, Michigan, Wisconsin, and the Bahamas. This past summer Mr. Heldring escorted 26
family members to Nicaragua where he delightfully danced the night away with
his daughters and granddaughters in the seaside resort town of San Juan Del
lifelong soccer fan, Mr. Heldring held the hope that the Dutch national team,
KNVH, would win the World Cup during his lifetime. His family will carry on the tradition of
rooting for the Dutch.
Heldring is survived by seven children Martin (Peg), Jamie (Geri), Alice Ann,
Mary Carroll (Billy Donahoe), Teddy (Julie), Louise (John Hummel) and Claudia
(Andy Goodrich) and 18 grandchildren,
Frederick, Maryclaire and Caroline Heldring, Balthazar, Anna Colette, and
Alexander Heldring, Olivia Heldring, Natalie, Alexandra, Claudia, Elise, and
Jack Hummel, Alicia, Cecilia, Frances and Colin Donahoe, and Eleanor and Nelson
Goodrich. Mr. Heldring’s two brothers,
Jerome and Alexander, predeceased him and his sister, Henriette, survives him
and recently celebrated her 100th birthday.
Colette Heldring died in 2012.
home is Devlin, Rosmos, Kepp & Gatcha, 517 South Main Street, Phoenixville. Donations, in lieu of flowers, may be sent to
St. Martin de Porres School, 2300 W. Lehigh Ave, Philadelphia 19132 or
Entrepreneur Works, 111 S. Independence Mall East, Suite 810, The Bourse
Building, Philadelphia, PA 19106.
The wake will be Tuesday,
October 15th, from 6:00 to 9:00p.m. at St. Katharine of Sienna Church, 104 S
Aberdeen Ave., Wayne, PA 19087, (610) 688-4584 and the funeral is
Wednesday at 10:00a.m. at the same church.