Max Fisher, an oilman who poured his millions into Jewish philanthropy and the city of Detroit and advised Republican presidents, died Thursday at his home in Franklin, Mich. He was 96.
Last year, Fisher, with a fortune estimated at $775 million, was the oldest person on Forbes magazine's annual ranking of the nation's 400 wealthiest individuals.
A native of Pittsburgh, Fisher moved to Detroit in 1933 as a salesman with his father's oil reclamation business but formed his own gasoline company with two partners the same year.
Fisher's Aurora Gasoline became one of the largest independent oil companies in the Midwest, with nearly 700 Speedway gas stations. He served as chairman until 1959, when Marathon Oil Co. bought Aurora. He retired in 1963.
As head of the United Jewish Appeal, he orchestrated an international campaign for Israel after the 1967 Arab-Israeli war. He also was a major benefactor of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra; gave $20 million to Ohio State's College of Business, which renamed the school in his honor; and helped found Detroit Renaissance, a nonprofit business group seeking to improve the city and region.
Republican presidents starting with Dwight Eisenhower sought Fisher's advice on Middle Eastern affairs and Jewish issues. According to Peter Golden's "Quiet Diplomat: A Biography of Max M. Fisher," President Ford and Secretary of State Henry Kissinger asked Fisher in 1975 to help heal a diplomatic rift between the United States and Israel over relations with Egypt.
"My fundamental responsibility was as an American," Fisher stated in the book. "Then as an American Jewish leader. And finally, I had my love for Israel."
Fisher headed the United Jewish Appeal, the Council of Jewish Federations and the American Jewish Committee.
He founded the National Jewish Coalition, an organization of Jewish Republicans, and was one of the top donors to the Foundation for Florida's Future, created in 1995 by Florida Gov. Jeb Bush to promote conservative ideas.
He served as an advisor or board member for more than a dozen corporations, including Comerica Inc. and Sotheby's, the London auction house once headed by his friend Alfred Taubman.