Joseph Klein Jr., insurance executive and philanthropist

Joseph Klein Jr., a Baltimore insurance executive and philanthropist who believed in leading by example, died of pulmonary fibrosis at his Pikesville home. He was 80.
Joseph Klein Jr., a Baltimore insurance executive and philanthropist who believed in leading by example, died of pulmonary fibrosis at his Pikesville home. He was 80. (Baltimore Sun)

Joseph Klein Jr., a Baltimore insurance executive and philanthropist who believed in leading by example, died Sunday of pulmonary fibrosis at his Pikesville home.

He was 80.

The son of a co-founder of Levinson & Klein Inc., an East Baltimore furniture store, and a homemaker, Mr. Klein was born in Baltimore and raised in the Dumbarton neighborhood of Northwest Baltimore.

Mr. Klein graduated in 1949 from Friends School, and in 1953 from the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania.

"He graduated on Friday, married on Sunday, honeymooned in Bermuda, and then was drafted into the Army," said his son, Joseph "Skip" Klein of Stevenson. "Rather then putting him in the Quartermaster Corps., they sent him to Los Alamos to work on rockets."

Discharged in 1955, Mr. Klein joined the family furniture business at Monument and Chester streets, and when his father sold his interest in the company, he went into the insurance business.

He worked for Sigmund M. "Sig" Hyman, the Baltimore financial planner who had founded S.M. Hyman Co.

A chartered life insurance underwriter who was considered an expert in sophisticated estate and financial planning, Mr. Klein started his own company, Joseph Klein Associates Inc., in the early 1960s.

"He took me in and created a world for me. He gave me a life," said Tom Brown, president and current owner of Joseph Klein Associates Inc. "He taught me many things, including lots of patience."

He met Mr. Klein in 1982, and went to work for him the next year.

"We have remained very, very close. He was the kind of man who taught leadership by example. Joe always led from the front, not the rear," recalled Mr. Brown.

"What you saw is what you got. There was nothing artificial or subtle about him. He operated like a sledgehammer and clients knew he was sincere and genuine, and most of all, cared," he said.

"Clients knew he'd do the worrying for them. He never represented an insurance company, he was responsible for the client," said Mr. Brown. "He said the only thing he had to sell was his time, knowledge and credibility."

He retired about a decade ago, according to Mr. Brown.

Mr. Klein cut a wide swath in charitable circles.

He was an active member of the board of directors of Friends School, Associated Jewish Charities, Baltimore School for the Arts, and the Baltimore chapter of the American Jewish Committee.

Mr. Klein was the founder of the Circle of Friends, the Friends School planned giving and legacy program.

He was a major participant in the American Jewish Committee's Executive Suite Program, in which he personally met with leaders of the major Baltimore banks and utilities to decry their reluctance to hire Jews as high-level officers or as board members.

"At one of those meetings, a bank officer disingenuously complained, 'We don't have ways to find out who is Jewish,' " said Shale D. Stiller, a partner in the Baltimore office of DLA Piper.

"Needless to say, when Joe replied, 'We can help you identify them,' the offer was not accepted with alacrity," he said. "He never had an agenda and you knew where he stood on every issue."

When it came to fundraising, Mr. Klein was a formidable and unrelenting advocate.

"Regarding annual and legacy giving, Joe was relentless," said Mr. Brown.

"Joe would get angry at people who sat on boards and talked about other people giving money but never gave themselves. He'd say, 'If you want to get others to give, then give yourself,'" said Mr. Stiller, a friend of more than 50 years.

"He was very persuasive and the most honest man I've ever known. He had integrity beyond belief," he said. "Joe was direct and you always knew where you stood with him. He never skirted the truth."

Mr. Stiller said his friend had a particular dislike for public relations firms, politicians and advertising agencies.

"He thought they were hypocrites who tried to persuade people that the moon was made of green cheese. He had a very sardonic view of them," said Mr. Stiller. "This was because he believed anything his friends would tell him because he believed them. He trusted them."

Mr. Klein was an expert bridge and poker player, and for the last decade, was a regular player at the Bridge House in Pikesville. Three days before his death, Mr. Klein and his partner placed first in the daily duplicate bridge action.

In the 1970s, he founded the Sandhedrin Gaming Society, a poker group that met once a month for years, and recently, quarterly.

"Joe was a fierce card player. He was an excellent card player and he expected everyone to be as perfect as he was," said Mr. Stiller, laughing. "He was never shy about telling you what you did wrong, either.

He was a former member of Har Sinai Congregation and was a member and board member of the Suburban Club.

In addition to cards, Mr. Klein enjoyed completing crossword puzzles.

Services will be held at 1 p.m. Tuesday at Sol Levinson & Bros. Funeral Home, 8900 Reisterstown Road, Pikesville.

In addition to his son, Mr. Klein is survived by his wife of 58 years, the former Joan Green; a daughter, Cynthia K. "Cinnie" Goldberg of Cockeysville; and six grandchildren.


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