On Tuesday, our community lost a leader and true mensch. Harold Pollin (z”l) epitomized the ideal of a community leader. Gracious. Community-minded. Charming. Philanthropic. Visionary. He had the most wonderful way with people. I guess that is why he was so successful in the hospitality industry.
Harold Pollin was born in Washington, DC and moved to Portland in 1968 at the age of 32. He was an entrepreneur who developed and operated multiple hotels and restaurants in Portland, including the Sheraton Portland Airport Hotel (which he always reminded me was the closest hotel to PDX). He ran a successful business in the hospitality and tourism industry and eventually served as president of the Greater Portland Convention and Visitors Association, now known as Travel Portland, among other leadership roles in the state.
Harold was more than a hotelier and restauranteur. He was passionate about the Jewish community. He played an instrumental role in the development of our Jewish community. Harold served as President of the Jewish Federation of Greater Portland (1984-1986) and was a visionary founder of the Oregon Jewish Community Foundation, serving as the organization’s first president. He also served on the board of Congregation Beth Israel and president of the Jewish Education Association. He did so much to enrich and position our Jewish community for the long-term future.
Many years ago, I worked at the Jewish Federation in Baltimore and had the opportunity to meet Harold’s brother, Abe Pollin, founder and former owner of both the Washington (Bullets) Wizards NBA team and the Washington Capitals NHL team. When I first met Harold here in Portland, we talked about my connection with his brother and the teams. That is when I first heard the true story of why the Washington Bullets changed their name to the Washington Wizards – it was in response to the assassination of Israeli Prime Minister Yitzchak Rabin. We talked about the 1978 NBA finals (the first one I remember watching as a child -- sorry I missed out on the Trailblazers a few years earlier) when the Washington (then) Bullets defeated the Seattle Supersonics four games to three with Wes Unseld leading the charge. At our next meeting, Harold brought with him his NBA championship ring. He was like a little kid showing it off with such pride!
When I would see Harold, what made the greatest impression on me was how he interacted with his employees. I would often meet him for lunch at the Sheraton. He was so engaging, kind, and warm to each of the employees, speaking to them by name and seemingly knowing their entire personal history. They were his extended family and they meant the world to him. I remember talking to him during the pandemic with the hotel industry suffering and his sole focus was on his employees and their families.
Harold loved his adopted city and our Jewish community. He was generous with his financial resources, time, and acumen. He was always a joy to solicit. He was genuinely interested in hearing what was going on in the community, especially change initiatives. He was supportive of change – because he understood this from his own business experiences. In addition, he would often offer sage advice and guidance followed by a very generous increased donation. He would say to me, “Here are my thoughts, which you may or may not agree with. No matter what, here is my contribution to help do what the leadership determines is best for the community.” And then he would thank me for giving him the opportunity to give! He was truly a joyful philanthropist!
Above all, Harold loved his beautiful family. Our condolences go to his wife, Jane, his five children, Sharon, Andrew, Dave (Kirsten), Rachel, Melissa (Dave), his ten grandchildren, and two great-grandchildren.
As one community member shared with me upon learning of his passing, “We all learned a lot from Harold. How to give. How to lead. And how to be a mensch.” Harold was truly a master teacher -- always leading by example.
I will miss his kindness, mentorship, charm, warm smile, and magnificent singing voice. Baruch Dayan HaEmet -- may Harold’s memory be for a blessing and the entire Pollin family comforted by the mourners of Zion.
As we approach the High Holidays, the Jewish Federation has created this High Holidays Resource Page for you to see the various opportunities available at local synagogues and Jewish organizations. I hope that you find your place in our Jewish community during this meaningful time of year.