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George Scharffenberger, 82; Businessman, Financier Led USC Board of Trustees

November 15, 2001|DENNIS McLELLAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

George T. Scharffenberger, an internationally known businessman and financier who served on the Board of Trustees of USC, has died. He was 82.

Scharffenberger died Saturday at his home in Rolling Hills after a brief illness.

As chairman and chief executive of City Investing Co., Scharffenberger built the real estate holding company into a diversified global firm with assets valued at $8 billion.

In the mid-1980s, the company divested its subsidiaries and distributed the proceeds to shareholders in what was thought to be the largest voluntary liquidation in the nation's history.

Born in 1919 in Hollis, N.Y., he held down odd jobs while going to school after his accountant father died in 1930.

The lack of money while growing up during the Depression, Scharffenberger told The Times in 1985, led to sleepless nights wondering how to get money to feed his family. Scharffenberger, who took up beekeeping at 14 to make extra money, recalled that one week the family had only string beans for dinner each night.

"The lack of money seemed to develop the introspective side of my nature, so much so that my Latin teacher told me, 'Obviously, you're not very aggressive. You're not for the business world; you should think of teaching for a career.' "

But both of his parents had been accountants and, he said, he took it for granted that's what he would be.

He studied accounting at Columbia University, earning a bachelor's degree in 1940 and joining the accounting firm of Arthur Andersen & Co. After serving in the Army in World War II, he joined International Telephone & Telegraph Corp. and later became president of its ITT Kellogg subsidiary.

In 1959, Scharffenberger joined Litton Industries in Southern California, serving as president of its Westrex Division and later becoming a senior vice president in charge of Defense and Space Systems.

In 1966, he returned to New York to be president and chief executive of City Investing Co., then a real estate holding firm.

When Scharffenberger was offered the presidency, he was told his mission would be to expand the company.

"I told them upfront, I knew nothing about acquisitions," he told The Times. But, he added, "I learned back in Depression days, when you're compelled to do something, it's amazing what you can do. I took the job, and I stayed up many a night trying to figure out what needed to be done and how to do it."

Over the years, by means of mergers and acquisitions, he built City Investing Co. into a global firm with operations in manufacturing, housing, lodging, food services, insurance and financial services.

After the company was liquidated in the mid-1980s, he served as chairman of AmBase Corp., successor to the Home Group, which had been City Investing Co.'s principal insurance company. He retired in 1994.

Scharffenberger was a member of the Board of Trustees of USC since 1973, and served as chairman from 1985 to 1990. He was named a life trustee in 1994.

He also was on the Board of Regents of Georgetown University from 1969 to 1973.

Scharffenberger, who was a close friend of President Reagan and Nancy Reagan, served as a co-trustee of the Ronald Reagan Blind Trust during Reagan's presidency.

He is survived by his wife, Marion; children Ann Scharffenberger Allen of New York City, George Scharffenberger Jr. of Chevy Chase Md., John Scharffenberger of Philo, Calif., Thomas Scharffenberger of San Francisco, Dr. James Scharffenberger of Rolling Hills, and Joan Scharffenberger Laarakkers of Ottersum, Holland; his brother, William Scharffenberger of New York; and 10 grandchildren.

The funeral will be private. In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to the George T. Scharffenberger Memorial Scholarship Fund at USC or to the Peninsula Committee, Childrens Hospital Los Angeles.

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