Samuel L. Frieder: Activist, executive, humanitarian


Samuel L. Frieder, of Lafayette Hill, retired president and CEO of  S. Frieder & Sons cigar manufacturing company, who also volunteered for numerous charitable organizations and served as board chairman of nonprofits including Einstein Medical Center, died of a brain aneurysm June 28 at Chestnut Hill Hospital. He was 86.

Born in 1937 in Cincinnati, Ohio, Samuel Frieder was a child when he moved with his family to Philadelphia in 1942. He attended Friends Select and William Penn Charter Schools and earned a bachelor’s degree from Harvard University. 

Frieder met the love of his life, Carol Flax, shortly after starting classes at Harvard. The story, as he told it to his grandchildren, was that his parents required him to graduate prior to marrying Carol, so he ultimately graduated in just three years. 

After joining the family business, Freider worked his way up from a sales position in the mid-1950s to executive leadership in the 1960s, when the company was based in Philadelphia. Founded by Frieder’s grandfather, the firm made about 100 million cigars a year in the 1950s, according to Cigar Aficionado magazine. The family sold the business in 1978.

A committed civic activist, Freider volunteered his time, serving charitable organizations throughout the region, including during his tenure as chairman of the board at Jewish Family and Children’s Service of Greater Philadelphia. He also served as vice-president of Congregation Rodeph Shalom in Philadelphia.

“My dad was equally nice to everyone, no matter their station in life,” his daughter, Cathy Straus, a hypnotherapist, told us last week. “He would say the important thing is how you treat people when no one is looking and to show respect to everyone, whether it's the parking attendant or the CEO. We won the lottery when we got him as a father. He was the best of the best. A great father and citizen. He and (older brother) Dick spoke several times a day, saying absolutely nothing. They just wanted to hear each other's voice.  

“He left such an impact on all of our lives! I hope my children can say the same thing about me when I am gone,” Straus continued. Frieder and his wife Carol’s love story resulted in a 67-year marriage with four children, 10 grandchildren and 3 great-grandchildren.

Frieder’s longtime commitment to civic activism may have roots in the heroic actions of his parents, Herbert and Selda Frieder, who were instrumental in a successful effort to rescue 1,300 Jews from Nazi Germany. 

Chronicled in the book, “Escape to Manila: From Nazi Tyranny to Japanese Terror,” by Frank Ephraim. Herbert Frieder and three brothers, all part of the family company, owned a cigar factory in the Philippines. The family organized a refugee program for Jews fleeing Nazi Germany to immigrate to the Philippines and work in the Freider factory in Manila. Ephraim was one of the refugees. A 2013 documentary film, “Rescue in the Philippines: Refuge from the Holocaust,” with narration by Liev Schreiber, also focused on the rescue effort. 

“None of us even knew about it for many years,” Straus said. “We only learned about it because one of the survivors wrote a book.”

At a July 30 memorial service for Frieder at Congregation Rodeph Shalom, Dick Frieder, Samuel's older brother, said “We went to Friends Select School. We took a horse drawn carriage to and from school. One day we let the horses loose down the Parkway, which caused chaos ... Dad bought season tickets to the Eagles, and we went to every game. Sam was always for the underdog. Sam and I spoke every single day, and we talked even more on game day. He was a terrific soccer player and a very good tennis player. We felt so lucky to be spending so much time together, creating wonderful memories. I cannot imagine a better sibling relationship. We never argued. He was my best friend.”

Frieder's son, Stephen, recalled his father’s wisdom, patience and empathy, while son Samuel talked about Freider’s skill as a tennis athlete for whom the game was not about winning but about “having fun and building friendships.” 

Speaking as a representative of Freider’s grandchildren, Amy Straus, described a “grandpa” who was “one of a kind” and who, with his wife, was a great role model and taught “us to be humble.”

Frieder is survived by his wife, Carol, children Cathy, Susan, Samuel and Stephen; grandchildren Julie, Amy, Natalie, Jeffrey, Ethan, Jane, Charles, William, Daniel and Grace and great-grandchildren Jason, Emma and Harrison. Donations in his name may be made to Jewish Family and Children's Service of Greater Philadelphia, 345 Montgomery Ave., Bala Cynwyd, PA 19004, or Congregation Rodeph Shalom, 615 N. Broad St., Philadelphia, PA 19123.

Len Lear can be reached at