NEW YORK, N.Y. – Hillary Clinton joined the family and friends of Edgar Bronfman on Tuesday to remember a Jewish leader whose vast whiskey fortune was eclipsed by a globally-connected personal force that helped Holocaust survivors win back what the Nazis stole.
“He exuded a confidence and honesty that won him the friendship and support of presidents and popes and people everywhere,” the former U.S. secretary of state and first lady told a memorial gathering in Manhattan.
The Canadian-born Bronfman, who headed his family’s Seagram’s liquor empire and was the longtime president of the World Jewish Congress, died at his New York home in December at 84.
Clinton said she arranged a 1996 meeting — on just a day’s notice from Bronfman — between him and then U.S. President Bill Clinton. The encounter led to years of negotiations over Holocaust assets between Swiss banks, the World Jewish Congress and the U.S. government.
During the 1980s and 1990s, the congress helped lead the effort to gain $11 billion in restitution for heirs of Holocaust victims. Bronfman was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
The liquor magnate also spent years lobbying the Soviet regime to allow Jews to emigrate to the West.
With his wealth plus what Hillary Clinton called his “dogged” energy, Bronfman built powerhouse friendships that included Israeli President Shimon Peres, who spoke at the memorial through a recorded video.
“He was a born leader, yet he was a man of deep convictions,” said the 90-year-old Israeli statesman, shown with Bronfman in one of a series of photos beamed to the audience from the stage of Avery Fisher Hall at the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts.
Bronfman’s large family entered the memorial together. Survivors include his wife, Jan Aronson, seven children and 24 grandchildren. He was married four times, including twice to his third wife.
Bronfman did not draw big names by his position or wealth, his son said.
“It’s a force of personality and intelligence,” said Edgar Bronfman Jr. “Dad was also a passionate man, and passion is often the difference between being good and being superb.”
Seagram expanded under Bronfman and was eventually acquired by the French media group Vivendi Universal in 2000.