Home > Israel, Uncategorized > Breitbard’s philanthropy and family ties emphasized at funeral service

Breitbard’s philanthropy and family ties emphasized at funeral service

Related story by Joey Seymour

By Norman Greene

Norman Greene

SAN DIEGO– During his life time, Bob Breitbard, 91, who passed away in his sleep at Seacrest Village Retirement Home in Encinitas on Monday, May 17, was already a San Diego legend.

As a dreamer and visionary sportsman who built a community arena, a museum to honor the city’s athletic heritage, taught and coached high school and college athletics, and owed professional franchises in basketball and hockey, he was, according to Rabbi Leonard Rosenthal, spiritual leader of Tiffereth Israel Synagogue, “larger than life.”

A successful businessman, Bob Breitbard “set the bar for anyone who wants not only to serve the public, but to be a mensch as well. He was always focused on serving the public good,” the Rabbi said.

Although Bob Breitbard’s business and civic successes were enormous, It was his family’s desire that at the Tiffereth Israel memorial service held Tuesday, May 18th, the emphasis should be on the humanity of Bob Breitbard and Bob Breitbard the family man.

It was announced that a community appreciation would be held at the Hall of Champions in Balboa Park next month where Breitbard’s achievements and extraordinary contributions to the sports community would be warmly celebrated.

Representing the large Breitbard family, daughter Gayle and her husband, Jerry Klusky each delivered loving memories as daughter and son-in-law. Citing his father in law’s admonishment that it was best to “treat your competitors fairly,” Klusky remembered Breitbard as “an excellent mentor.”

Rabbi Rosenthal than delivered the main eulogy describing Breitbard the man as one filled with humility, modesty, kindness, respectfulness, creativity, productivity, generosity and vibrant warmth. “Bob Breitbard never cared about a person’s station in life, or their background, or religion, or ethnicity, or the color of their skin, or for what they could do for him.

“He had a gift for making anyone he met and spoke with feel that they were the center of his universe and that no matter who they were or their station in life, they were a unique and valuable human being. He would just as warmly embrace the woman who cleaned his house as he would a captain of industry.”

As Breitbart was a member of two congregations, Rabbi Michael Berk and Cantor Arlene Bernstein, spiritual leaders at Congregation Beth Israel, also participated in the appreciation of Bob Breitbard’s long life. Breitbard was a life member there from 1963 and gave generously to their building and other campaigns.

He was a passionate and supportive member of the Jewish Community. He had experienced anti-Semitism personally when he was rejected from a fraternity at San Diego State because he was Jewish, but this did not lead him to hide his heritage. The opposite was true. He always affirmed his Jewish roots and love for the Jewish community and Israel.

A member of Tiffereth Israel Synagogue since 1945, he was one of its generous supporters. In addition to his other contributions, he dedicated one of the art panels in the congregation’s Cohen Social Hall in his late wife, Lily’s, memory, and when the congregation built its new Shekhter Gan Yeladim, Shekhter Family Children’s playground, he and the Klusky family donated the miniature basketball court.

Through the years, Breitbard was also an active supporter of countless Jewish causes, including the United Jewish Federation and San Diego’s Hebrew Homes for the elderly.

Breitbard’s civic-mindedness and civic support is legendary. The number of boards he has served on, charities he supported, and awards he received is far too long to enumerate here. On a brief list of Civic Organizations and Public Service Activities, there are 22 entries, including such varied organizations as the Old Globe, Sharp Memorial Hospital, the Aztecs Club and the Salk Institute.

As for Awards and Honors, there are 35 entries, including San Diego State College Alumnus of the year, the City of San Diego naming the “Breitbard Wing” at the Casa de Balboa in Balboa Park, State of California Contribution to Athletes and Athletics Award, Honorary Chair of the Holiday Bowl, and, of all things, Grand Marshall of the Mother Goose Parade in November, 2000, to name but a few.

“Bob was comfortable financially,” according to Rabbi Rosenthal, “but he was not as wealthy as most people thought, and there was a reason for this: Bob gave most of what he had away, to the many organizations and causes to which he so committed.”

Breitbard’s life was a true San Diego success story. His three older brothers, Ed, Will, and Al were born in New York, but Bob and his sister Joyce were born in San Diego after the family moved here in 1919.

Breitbard worked hard in school and was the only one of his siblings to graduate from a college, specifically San Diego State. He also earned an M.A. in Education from USC in 1945. He always loved sports and played football at Hoover High and at San Diego State. It was during his years at Hoover High that he met a classmate Ted Williams, who would go on to be an incredible ball player, one of the best hitters of all time, and who was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1966. Bob and Ted became fast friends, and their close friendship endured until Ted’ passing in 2002.

After graduating college Bob became a teacher and coach. He began his career at Hoover High. From Hoover High, he went on to coach at San Diego State, and was the Aztec’s volunteer head coach in 1945, when he re-established the program after the war. He also re-established the program at the Marine Corps  Recruit Depot around the same time.

But, unfortunately teaching and coaching did not pay very well in those days. He would soon have a family to support.

Bob met Lily when she moved here to be closer to her brother, who was stationed in San Diego during the war. They dated, fell in love, and married. It was a marriage that lasted for almost 52 years until Lily’s passing in 1997.

After leaving coaching Breitbard joined his three older brothers in California Linen Supply, which their father had started. He eventually rose to the position of president, but in the beginning he was, naturally, in sales and marketing. With his natural warmth, interest in people, and ability to strike up a conversation with anyone, he was a natural. He helped grow the business by lining up large and significant clients, including hotels, hospitals and the Marine Corps. “For Bob, the customer was always king.”

While managing the laundry provided for his family, the work was not the stuff of Bob’s dreams. He had a life long love affair with sports, and as far back as 1946 established the Breitbard Athletic Foundation from which came the Breitbard Hall of Fame. Bob eventually found a larger home for the Hall of Fame and much of his sports memorabilia in the San Diego Hall of Champions, one of the most renown sports museums in the country, which he pioneered, founded, and whose doors he opened in 1961.

“Bob was devoted to the Hall of Fame because he wanted to make sure that local athletes received the recognition they deserved. So central was the Hall to his life that his daughter Gayle often teased him, calling it his “first child.”

He dreamed of bring professional hockey and basketball to San Diego. With four partners, but in truth, almost single-handedly Breitbard built the San Diego Sports Arena as a home for professional sports. Today when major sports facilities are built there is often a great deal of indirect financial assistance from the cities which house them. This was not the case then. Although the city did help by leasing the land for a modest amount, Breitbard either put up or raised the money to build the arena almost by himself. He risked a great deal personally. The Arena was a big success, especially when he brought in the Rockets and the Gulls.

Unfortunately, much of the financial burden of running the Sports Arena fell on Breitbard and in 1971, he was forced to sell his beloved Rockets to Houston. It truly was a low point of his life.

Breitbard is survived by his daughters Gayle and Denise Breitbard, his sister Joyce Weitzen, two grandchildren and six great grandchildren. Donations can be made to the Hall of Champions in his memory.

In Memoriam, Robert Breitbard: April 28, 1919 – May 17, 2010.


Greene is a San Diego-based freelance writer.

  1. Sharon Bard
    May 24, 2010 at 9:45 pm

    I’ve just read the tribute to Bob Breitbard. In mentioning Bob’s siblings, (paragraph 16), Norman Greene omitted mentioning Bob’s older sister, Sylvia Breitbard Bard, who was born in New York, and lived in San Diego from the age of 3 until her passing in January 2000 at the age of 84. Sylvia, active in several civic organizations, was my mother.

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