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Catching up with Zanvyl Krieger WHERE CHARITY BEGINS; Benefactor: The Baltimore native does as he pleases with his millions. Giving it away pleases him enormously.


We all know it's better to give than receive. But few of us put that maxim in practice as mightily as Zanvyl Krieger. He gives away money in million-dollar chunks, $50 million to Johns Hopkins University alone.

So we find him at the height of the giving season discoursing on just why giving is better.

"I do it because it gives me a great deal of satisfaction to be able to benefit others," he says, with great simplicity and clarity. "I think the basis of life is satisfaction.

"We all do things to satisfy ourselves. If you have the money, you might as well enjoy it. I enjoy giving.

"There's no point in keeping it," he says, with the wisdom of a community elder. He turned 90 this year. "You can't take it with you. And the lines of communication from six feet under are not very good, you know."

He's a philanthropist in that grand Baltimore tradition of Enoch Pratt, Johns Hopkins, Henry and William Walters and Moses Sheppard, not to mention more modern givers like the Abells, Meyerhoffs and Knotts.

The Maryland Chapter of the National Society of Fund Raising Executives named him Philanthropist of the Year for 1996. They figure he's given more than $100 million over the last decade and a half to "countless organizations."

His benefactions have, in fact, helped shape the Baltimore medical community, especially in children's medicine. His gifts helped raise the Kennedy Krieger Institute for children with disabilities to international stature.

He created the Zanvyl Krieger Eye Institute at Sinai Hospital and endowed the Krieger Children's Eye Center at the Johns Hopkins Hospital's Wilmer Ophthalmological Institute. He also funded the Krieger Mind/Brain Institute at Hopkins University.

"I enjoy doing things," he says, "creating things, creating things to help people, to make life more enjoyable."

And, perhaps more than any of the classic gift givers, one of the things he enjoys most is sports.

He was crucial in bringing the Orioles to Baltimore and instrumental in keeping the Colts "until Irsay came along." When Bob Irsay absconded with the Colts 12 years ago, he felt the loss "very, very badly.

"I was very distressed by that," he says, which seems to be the zenith of indignation he reaches. He is universally praised as a nice man and a great guy.

But he has yet to see a Ravens game.

He was the majority stockholder in the Orioles until 1979, when the team was sold to Edward Bennett Williams. And for a dozen years he was the principal owner of the Clippers ice hockey team.

His office at the law firm of Weinberg and Green is packed with baseball and football memorabilia. He's got the last ball thrown in the 1979 World Series, signed by all the players, another

signed ball from the Orioles' first major league season in 1954 and a third from 1958's All-Star Game.

He wears a Colts World Championship ring.

"I got that in 1958 -- the last World Championship the Colts won," he says. "It was the greatest football game ever played."

Like a happy kid with a Little League trophy, he says: "Do you wanna see it?"

It's a weighty hunk of solid gold with a diamond not quite as big as the Ritz. He's worn it ever since 1958.

"Yes, I have," he says. "I wear that and a World Series ring, too."

Vintage 1979, of course, but he doesn't have it on this day. He fell and injured his ring finger.

He won't pick a favorite sport.

"I don't know," he says. "It's like asking which child you like better."

Admired Brooks

He used to go to Orioles games at Memorial Stadium with Milton Eisenhower, then president of Johns Hopkins University, Krieger's alma mater.

"We didn't miss many games," he says. "He was a wonderful man, a great guy to go to the games with. He knew the game.

"We always admired Brooks Robinson. I sat as close to Brooks as I could. Right on the third base line."

The club didn't make him much money.

"No, it did not," Krieger says. "We didn't operate the baseball club to make money in those days.

"It was a sport," he says. "I never went into sports for money. I thought of it as a civic venture. I thought of it as something in the interest of the city."

And he says: "I got a lot of fun out of it and a lot of pleasure."

He finds contemporary baseball too highly commercialized.

"It has lost some of its interest as far as I'm concerned," he says. "It's not recognizable as a sport now. It's a spectator presentation."

His office on the 14th floor of 100 South Charles overlooks East Pratt Street and the Inner Harbor, about five blocks from Charles and Lee streets, where his family lived when he was born. He's retired from the practice of law now. But he comes to his office almost every day. It's his base downtown.

His family were brewers and distillers. They made Gunther beer on Dillon Street in Canton opposite the Hoffberger's National brewery. He and Jerry Hoffberger would become partners in the Orioles.

Later the Kriegers distilled Maryland rye whiskey: Old Discovery, Volunteer Rye, Sherbrook and Baltimore Pure Rye.

"We had the largest rye distillery in the country at one time," Krieger says. "At one time rye whiskey was very important."

But rye is too heavy for modern tastes, he says, and whatever rye is produced is used mainly for blending.

And, no, he hasn't stashed away any of that fine old rye still coveted by connoisseur julep drinkers.

Zanvyl is the youngest and last surviving son of the eight children of Herman and Bettie Farber Krieger. Even though his father died when he was 4, the family was always comfortably fixed. And his older brothers were good businessmen. His brother, Abraham, for example, ran the brewery.

A Baltimore education

Krieger had what might be called a traditional Baltimore education for the sons of aspiring middle-class families. He graduated from City College in 1924 and Hopkins in 1928.

"My family was well-off," he says. "They gave me the opportunity to do what I wanted to do. I decided to be a lawyer. I decided to go to the best law school I could."

He went to Harvard Law School and graduated in 1931: "A pretty tough year," he says. He came back to Baltimore to start his practice of corporate law with the old firm of Weinberg and


The 1924 Green Bag, his City College yearbook, called him "our little wizard of finance." And he allows he has a real bent for finance and entrepreneurship.

"As a boy, when I was in grade school, I organized a water company and delivered water to people," he says. "I made

enough money for candy.

"There was a water problem in Baltimore. I had a little wagon and I had jugs and I'd go down to the spring in Druid Hill Park and fill the jugs and sell them to my clients."

But his biggest score was with the U.S. Surgical Corp.

"Yes," he says. "It enabled me to make all these gifts."

He invested in U.S. Surgical in 1964 when it had no assets. The company acquired the rights to market a device developed in the Soviet Union to close surgical incisions with staples. Improved versions have become commonplace in American hospitals.

The company now is also important in making and marketing endoscopic and laparoscopic instruments, which are tiny tubelike devices that allow doctors to peer into the body and even do surgery through various orifices or small incisions.

"I recognized the potential," Krieger says. "We lost money in the beginning, but it gradually developed and the company became pretty successful."

Which is a bit of an understatement. U.S. Surgical had assets of $1.265 billion in 1995, with earnings of $19.2 million. In 1970, the first year it made money, the profits were $52,100.

"The ability to recognize the potential of a situation is very important," he says. "That's what differentiates the men from the boys.

"I invest in companies because I believe in them," he says. "I think I have the ability to recognize values and people. People make things happen."

That's about as boastful as he gets. His modesty has become legendary. He doesn't seek publicity. And he didn't generate this story. Many of his charities have to do with helping people with disabilities of mind or body. But he displays little vanity and no superiority toward those he helps.

"We all have our frailties," he says. "We all have handicaps in one respect or another. Some are more obvious than others. There's no such thing as a perfect man."

He's given to a fair number of Jewish charities, such as Chizuk Amuno Congregation, where he is a member, and their Krieger-Shechter Day School.

He was a founder of the Jewish Heritage Center at the Jewish Historical Society. And he's given to the Holocaust Museum in Washington and the Children's Medical Center of Israel.

But he doesn't think of himself as a particularly observant Jew. He doesn't attend Sabbath services regularly, for example.

"I say that regretfully, not proudly," he says.

His foundation

Most of his giving for nearly two decades has been done through the Zanvyl and Isabelle Krieger Foundation. The late Isabelle Lowenthal Krieger was his wife for 40 years.

Their two daughters, Betsey Krieger and Jane Kahn, sometimes influence his giving. Betsey, for example, founded the Waverly Family Center.

Big gift-givers don't compete with each other, he says.

"But you've got to set a pace," he says. "If the pace is slow, you're going to run slow. If your pace is fast, you're going to have to increase your speed."

And it is true that after he gave a record $50 million to the Johns Hopkins School of Arts and Sciences, Michael Bloomberg, the financial media tycoon and a Hopkins grad, too, pledged $55 million.

"I know Mike Bloomberg," Krieger says. "He said, 'Zan, if you give that kind of money, I've got to, too.' "

After Bloomberg upped the ante $5 million, Krieger says, with genuine amusement, "He told me: 'Now you've got to meet my gift.' "

Krieger is proud that his $50 million challenge grant generated almost $100 million for Hopkins. After his gift, he says, another donor raised his $5 million to $20 million.

"We all set standards for ourselves," he says. "Some have no standards. Some have high standards. I do what I like to do. I do what I think is right at the time and what I'm capable of doing.

"I believe what I've begun is a good foundation for the future. I think the various institutions I've benefited will prosper and do some real good."

And he's glad, or more correctly, determined to be around to see fTC those good things happen.

"I don't like the idea of that ...," he says. "I don't want my executor to give it. I earned it. I think I ought to have the enjoyment.

"I have been very fortunate and I think I should help the less fortunate."

Pub Date: 12/30/96

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