Goodbye, Mr. Pollin

I’ll make this short because not everyone who reads this lives in Washington, DC, but the longtime owner of the Washington Wizards/Bullets and former owner of the Washington Capitals hockey team, Abe Pollin, died yesterday.  He was 85 years old.pollin1

I rarely post anything in this space remotely related to an obitutary, but I started work in Washington, DC in 1987 – they say that if you have been in DC for more than two presidential administrations, you are a native.  So, despite my strong New England roots, I suppose I qualify.

Abe Pollin did more for the city of Washington, DC than anyone else I can think of.  From today’s Washington Post article, here are just a few tidbits of of his life story:

  • He arrived in Washington more than 75 years ago, the gangly son of a Russian metal worker named Morris Pollinovsky who came to America a poor man speaking no English.
  • In addition to building thousands of units of housing for a range of incomes, he was the pillar of countless charitable and civic efforts, culminating in his building MCI Center (now Verizon Center) in 1997 and triggering a stunning renaissance of Gallery Place and surrounding neighborhoods.
  • He..built the Linda Pollin (his deceased daughter) Memorial Housing Project in Southeast Washington, with three- and four-bedroom apartments to accommodate large families.
  • Mr. Pollin was well known for his philanthropy, which touched global efforts such as UNICEF, while never forgetting local causes such as the I Have a Dream Foundation. He championed improving the lives of children, considering it an obligation of those who could afford to do so, and his contributions over the years were believed to be in the multiple millions.
  • In December 1984, Mr. Pollin read an op-ed column in The Post about 40,000 children dying daily from malnutrition in Africa. He called the writer, inquiring whether the number was a misprint. Mr. Pollin was assured it was accurate and was given a phone number for UNICEF’s top U.S. official. Mr. Pollin organized a trip to northeastern Uganda to observe the pestilence first-hand and later spearheaded UNICEF relief drives for Africans, and then for Kurds in Northern Iraq, and for women and children to survive winter in Afghanistan.
  • Mr. Pollin worked summers [in construction] for his dad, hauling bathtubs on his back to prove to his co-workers that he was more than the boss’s son. A back injury he suffered during the heavy lifting rendered him 4-F when he later tried to enlist during World War II.
  • In 1999, along with several international humanitarian organizations, he began funding research into the long-term effects of Saddam Hussein’s use of chemical weapons on Kurds in Halabja, a town in northern Iraq. In 2002, Mr. Pollin and his wife established the Pollin Prize, a $200,000 annual award for pediatric research.
  • Mr. Pollin’s fierce sense of mission and risk-taking was most evident in his construction of the Verizon Center, which he opened after several years of wrangling with District government. Mr. Pollin again recruited O’Malley, along with numerous business allies, to lobby city officials to invest more than $150 million in public resources in exchange for his moving the Wizards and Capitals to the downtown site at Gallery Place. When the financially strapped city balked, Mr. Pollin decided to build the arena himself.
  • After Sept. 11, 2001, Mr. Pollin led several efforts to aid the victims and families of the terrorist attack on the Pentagon. He put his company name to one of them, an educational fund benefiting the children who lost a parent or guardian in the attack. Abe and Irene Pollin made the first donation of $100,000.

Finally, in a story he told The Post in 1991, Mr. Pollin was sitting by himself in a Washington restaurant. A man came up to him, tapped him on the shoulder and said, “Are you Abe Pollin?”Mr. Pollin looked up, anticipating a complaint about one of his teams. “Yes, I am,” he replied. “You don’t know me, but you changed my life,” the man said, “You built that Linda Pollin project, and I moved in there, and that’s the first decent place we ever had to live. That changed my life.”

In an age in which there are so many sports owners who view themselves as celebrities and, in Montgomery Burns-like fashion, want to make their millions into billions, Abe Pollin was one of a kind.

Rest in peace, Mr. Pollin.  You were and will always be a part of Washington, DC.

Mark

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